The Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) has been working with North Unit Irrigation District (NUID) to find a solution to address the irrigation needs of the farmers and conservation needs of the river. We are pleased to announce that we will be breaking ground this winter with North Unit Irrigation District on the first phase of the largest streamflow restoration initiative in Oregon’s history.
For over one hundred years, the Deschutes River and its tributaries have supported agricultural communities in Central Oregon. More than 700 miles of irrigation canals deliver water to farmers whose crops make a significant contribution to our national food production.
NUID, located near Madras and Culver, serves Central Oregon’s most vibrant farming community. Farmers in this district are the most junior water right holders in the Deschutes basin, meaning they are last in line for water. To ensure that farmers in North Unit have sufficient water supplies to grow their crops, the district aggressively pursues innovative conservation practices. NUID’s primary water source comes from the Deschutes River, but they also rely heavily on costly water pumped from the Crooked River.
The first phase of this exciting water conservation project will line 4.9 miles of NUID’s main canal, conserving Deschutes River water that would otherwise be lost through seepage. This conserved water will then be used on lands that are currently irrigated with water pumped from the Crooked River. As a result, more water will remain instream in the Crooked River. It is important to note that in 2007, NUID received Congressional approval to restore streamflows through its conservation effort. Without this legislation, this project would not be possible.
When completed, this initiative will allow North Unit farmers to reduce their reliance on pumped water from the Crooked River and will restore up to 190 cubic feet per second (cfs) of streamflow in the section of the Crooked River running through Smith Rock State Park. With flows as low as 10 cfs, historically this section has suffered from poor water quality and a degraded ecosystem. A win-win opportunity for farmers and fish, the North Unit Initiative supports a strong agricultural economy while permanently improving conditions for fish, wildlife and recreation.
The North Unit Initiative is a great example of how the DRC provided a vision, created a strategy and brought together instrumental partners. North Unit Irrigation District, The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Portland General Electric, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board worked with us to produce this innovative solution to a complicated water management problem.
Bea Armstrong, Development and Communications Director
541.382.4077, ext. 23