Bend Bulletin - Arnold Irrigation District piping plans raise ire among area residents

A plan to pipe sections of open canal owned by Arnold Irrigation District in Bend has been met with opposition by residents in the area surrounding the canal. The district says the project will conserve water, but residents say there are significant environmental and cultural costs that come with the plans.

Some residents in the area are encouraging others to submit comments about the project prior to the close of the public comment period on Friday.

The conflict between homeowners and irrigation districts over piping is not new in Bend. Homeowners in other parts of the city have rallied against the piping of canals by Central Oregon Irrigation District. Most of the opposition has been from residents whose property lies next to or near the canals, which add scenic value to properties.

Opposition to piping the canals led to some sections of the COID canal being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While listing the canals as historic may protect them, it does not guarantee they will contain water — the district could still divert the water into a pipe, leaving the canal dry.

The flume and canal belonging to Arnold Irrigation District have yet to be designated as historic, but the district has hired a cultural resource specialist to complete surveys for historic and archaeological resources in the project area.

As it stands currently, with the project subject to change, the district proposes to install 13.2 miles of pipe along its main canal and flume. Plans include removing the current flume, which runs along a portion of the Deschutes River near Lava Island Falls.

The current structure — which consists of a semicircular steel lining  built on creosoted timber supports with concrete foundations — was built between 1947 and 1951. It replaced an earlier flume built between 1905 and 1910.

David McKay, program specialist for the Farmers Conservation Alliance, which is helping to manage the process, said the flume is nearing the end of its usable lifespan.

“The main thing is that the U-shaped flume is pretty leaky and the support structures are getting pretty old, and the district is looking for something that is going to last a hundred years,” said McKay. “It would have to be replaced in the next 15 to 20 years.”

The district says the piping project will take seven years to finish and come with a $42.8 million price tag. Replacement of the flume would occur in the final stage, in year six or seven, said McKay.

McKay’s organization, the Farmers Conservation Alliance, is a contractor working on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which released a draft watershed plan-environmental assessment in June.

Water savings from converting the leaky canal to a pipe will total 10,526 acre-feet of water per year, or 32.5 cubic feet per second, according to the draft assessment .

Most of the saved water will be transferred to the North Unit Irrigation District in summer to benefit farmers in Jefferson County. In winter the water can be left in the Deschutes River.

Arnold has already piped about 22% of its system, primarily laterals that are not part of the new project area. The district, which has 39 miles of open canals, says around 40% of its water is lost to seepage.

The canal runs through Deschutes River Woods, Woodside Ranch, the Tekampe area, and the Arnold Market Road area — all located on Bend’s southern fringe. Around 430 properties located along the main canal would be affected by the plan to place a buried pipe in the area, according to Debra Rudloff, an area resident who is helping to organize the campaign against the piping project.

Rudloff and other homeowners issued a public statement against the project, claiming excessive environmental damage, a lack of water to fight wildfire, and damage to a scenic stretch of the Deschutes River.

The plan’s proposal does state that environmental impact is an inevitable part of the project.

“In areas where it would be necessary to clear trees, there would be a permanent decrease in the number and density of trees, which would have a long-term effect on the visual experience for property owners,” according to the document.

The residents recommend lining the canal as an alternative to piping and retaining the wooden flume at the beginning of the canal.

According to the planning documents, the flume would be replaced with a pipe partly above ground and partially buried. A maintenance road is planned to be built for around 5,000 feet over the buried portion of the pipe.

Colin Wills, general manager for Arnold Irrigation District, said while the flume must be removed and replaced with a pipe, portions of it will be saved and preserved elsewhere in the county.

Some of it would be displayed on Arnold Irrigation District office property. Wills also suggested the High Desert Museum as one place that could display the flume.

But he adds, “it would have to be removed; you couldn’t put a pipe inside it.”

Some residents contend that the pipe and road that will replace the wooden flume will not mesh well with the surrounding landscape.

“It would permanently alter the scenic river corridor,” said Alan Keyes, a Deschutes River Woods resident. “The environmental impact of this is absolutely monumental. My objection to this is they are not presenting a viable alternative.”

McKay said that the plan is currently in its draft form and public comments will be accepted through Friday. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will address comments in the final draft environmental assessment, he said.

“We have gotten a lot of comments about (the flume) and NRCS and the district will be looking at those comments and reviewing them and deciding if things need to potentially change due to concerns that people have brought up,” said McKay. “I can understand why people are concerned about it, and they are going to be taking a closer look at it.”

A virtual meeting on the project was held last month, a recording of which can be viewed at oregonwatershedplans.org. The draft plan and other documents are also available there. Comments about the project can be sent through Friday to: arnold.id.comments@gmail.com.