October 25, 2007 - Piping proposed to boost flow in Tumalo Creek & the Deschutes River

Oct 25, 2007

October 25, 2007 - Piping proposed to boost flow in Tumalo Creek & the Deschutes River Piping proposed to boost flow in Tumalo, Deschutes
$14 million canal project seeks federal help
October 25, 2007

By Keith Chu / The Bulletin

Tumalo Irrigation District’s diversion dam on Tumalo Creek off Stag Road could see higher water flows if a bill in Congress to help fund piping the irrigation canal is approved.

Editor’s note: The story about how high school homecomings and academics mix, promoted in advance to be published today, will appear in The Bulletin on a future date.

WASHINGTON — A proposal to pipe a Tumalo irrigation canal would be a boon to fish, giving them thousands of additional gallons of water each day in Tumalo Creek and the Middle Deschutes River.

It’s the latest of a number of planned canal piping projects in the works in Central Oregon, where irrigation districts and conservation groups are trying to squeeze more water out of the system without hurting local farmers.

Tumalo Irrigation District Manager Elmer McDaniels traveled to Washington, D.C., to make his case along with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, for funding for the project at a hearing Wednesday before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water and Power.

“This project, when completed, will result in a major benefit to the Deschutes River by returning flows, which is why we know of no opposition to it in the area,” McDaniels said.

The district, in partnership with the Deschutes River Conservancy, wants to pipe six miles of its Tumalo Feed Canal to prevent that water from seeping into the porous basalt rock while it travels along the unlined canal. That would let the district take less water out of the creek for irrigation.

Walden is sponsoring a bill to pay for $4 million of the project’s estimated $14 million cost.

The district would attempt to find state funding for the balance of the project, said Deschutes River Conservancy Executive Director Tod Heisler. A Senate version of the legislation passed out of committee, but has yet to receive a vote by the full Senate.

He said the bill, along with other conservation projects in the area, “would make tremendous strides toward meeting the ecosystem and habitat standards for listed species, as well as provide flow stability for farmers and people who call the Deschutes River Basin home.”

The Tumalo Feed Canal runs from Tumalo Creek, near Skyline Ranch Road, northwest to the Tumalo Reservoir.

Piping the feed canal would save about 20 cubic feet per second in Tumalo Creek and the middle Deschutes River, according to McDaniels. That translates to roughly 150 gallons of water per second.

The water, which is about 15 degrees colder than that in the Deschutes River, would improve spawning conditions for redband rainbow trout, Heisler said.

“The ecological value is pretty significant because of the ecological value of Tumalo Creek,” Heisler said. “Tumalo Creek is very cold, very clear water.”

About 12 cubic feet per second of the conserved water would be permanently returned to Tumalo Creek, according to the conservancy. The remaining 8 cubic feet per second would be permanently protected in the Deschutes River, from which the Tumalo Irrigation District also diverts water.

The Bush administration does not support the bill because it draws on Bureau of Reclamation funds for a non-Reclamation project, said Robert Johnson, the bureau’s commissioner.

“The department is concerned that use of Reclamation funds on non-Reclamation projects would adversely impact water projects which Congress has charged Reclamation with operating and maintaining,” Johnson said.

Congress should take action to solve that problem, Walden said.

“We ought to create a separate pot of money that’s not robbing out of the Bureau of Reclamation,” Walden said.

Beyond improving fish habitat, piping the canals will have a host of other benefits, McDaniels said.

“The completed project will eliminate or reduce farm pumping systems, thereby saving energy, realize pressurization throughout the irrigation systems, and reduce the risk of injury and drowning to small children growing up in our district around open canals, as well as provide a measure of fire protection because of the ability to tap into a pressurized pipeline system,” McDaniels said.

That piping project will be done in stages and hopefully will be completed in 2010, he said.

Tumalo isn’t the only piping project in Central Oregon.

Another involves the Central Oregon Irrigation District, a separate irrigation district that serves customers north of Bend.

Starting in October 2009, the Central Oregon Irrigation District is planning to pipe more than two miles of the Pilot Butte Canal as it goes through Juniper Ridge, a 1,500-acre parcel on Bend’s north end that is owned by the city destined for development. The project will also generate power from a small hydro facility.

And the Swalley Irrigation District plans to begin piping 5.1 miles of the Swalley Canal next month, at the cost of about $10 million, said General Manager Jan Lee. That effort, which will pipe the canal from the fish screen at Division Street in Bend out to Fort Thompson Lane, is scheduled to be finished by April 15.

Keith Chu can be reached at 202-662-7456 or at kchu@bendbulletin.com.

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