Irrigation piping proposal heads to Deschutes commissioners

Jun 28, 2014

Bend Bulletin

Irrigation piping proposal heads to Deschutes commissioners

Bend city councilors support proposed canal piping, but neighbors continue protest

By Elon Glucklich

Deschutes County commissioners will hear two vastly different takes next week on the impact of a local irrigation district’s proposal to replace nearly a mile of open canal with a closed pipe.

The conflict between the Central Oregon Irrigation District and several dozen homeowners who live along the district’s Pilot Butte Canal has often been heated since the district last year proposed piping about 4,500 feet of the canal.

The district says its canals lose water that seeps into soil, and piping the stretch near Northeast 18th Street and Old Deschutes Road would preserve water for area farmers.

Residents have said irrigation district officials have tried to bully them into signing documents saying they’re on board with the plan.

At several public meetings in front of Deschutes County planning commissioners, residents have also said piping the canal would devastate their property values and damage their quality of life.

A Wednesday public hearing before county commissioners will cover a request by the district to change part of the county development code to allow canal piping as an accepted use in certain, low-density areas.

Recent show of support

The irrigation district got some support from the city of Bend last week, albeit symbolic. All seven city councilors voted to send a letter to Deschutes County commissioners urging them to approve the code change. The Pilot Butte Canal and the homes it runs along lie just outside Bend city limits, putting the land use decision at Deschutes County’s feet.

But Bend City Councilor Mark Capell said the support is about giving irrigation districts flexibility to preserve as much water as possible that comes out of the Deschutes River.

“The only way to really improve stream flows is to make the irrigation district systems more efficient,” Capell said Friday.

Water preservation vs. power generation

Critics of the plan aren’t buying it. They’ve argued the district just wants to replace the canal to speed up water flows, which would provide more power for a small hydroelectric plant it operates farther north on the canal. District officials haven’t denied the power generation is part of the rationale but say it’s primarily about preserving water.

Opponents scored a victory last month when county planning commissioners voted against the irrigation district’s code change proposal. But their vote isn’t binding: The three-member county commission has the final say.

The district could possibly pipe the canal without a code change, if it can secure a conditional use permit. But that process could take several years and probably would face numerous appeals.

Tom Hignell, one of the area residents protesting the plan, said Friday he is confident the county commissioners will echo the planning commission’s decision.

“We’re fighting to save our homes, our livability, our way of life,” Hignell said. “I think the three county commissioners are just as intelligent as the seven planning commissioners.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, eglucklich@bendbulletin.com

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