There’s been no shortage of fund coming into the Deschutes Basin for water conservation projects. After several consecutive years of significant drought, the importance of modernizing how we use water in the high desert has come rapidly to a head.
Natural flow into the river system is extremely low this year, conditions are dry, and the thirsty landscape is soaking up everything it can. This means less water for rivers, reservoirs and farmers.
We have career farmers in junior irrigation districts barely holding on to their dusty fallowed topsoil with just 40% of their allotment of water supply (think 40% of their business) and paying 100% of their bills. To add insult to injury, junior water right supplies are expected to curtail punishingly early this summer during the dry heat of August.
Meanwhile, senior districts have full access to their water allocation – for now. There is talk of even these senior water rights in danger of being cut off early.
Never has there been a better time for government investment in our local infrastructure. Huge projects to pipe canals are in the works. These projects will save vast amounts of water and bring Central Oregon closer toward better water equity between the haves and have less, and the natural ecosystem that also needs water to survive.
Oregon Water Resources Commission has recently awarded $908,127 for feasibility studies across the state. The Deschutes River Conservancy was the recipient of two such grants. One makes a $27,760 investment in the Dry River Canyon Conservation Study through the Deschutes River Conservancy and Central Oregon Irrigation District. The study will assess irrigation water runoff points and determine the feasibility of reducing water waste on a major canal in Central Oregon Irrigation District.
A second grant in the amount of $171,072 will fund the Smith Rock/King Way Water Conservation Feasibility Study to create a toolbox to assist with the prioritization and implementation of on-farm irrigation efficiency projects in Central Oregon Irrigation District. This study area overlaps with the piping of COID’s Pilot Butte Canal and will help sequence efficiency projects to further enhance water conservation from this large piping project.
While conditions are dire this year with severe drought, this is an exciting time at the DRC. We have funding, agreements, and programs in place that can greatly improve water equity for farmers, as well as improving streamflow for our local rivers and streams.