Public Comments Sought for Ochoco Irrigation District Infrastructure Modernization Project

Flows in the Crooked River and its tributary, McKay Creek, will be increased as a part of Ochoco Irrigation District’s watershed improvement plan. The plan includes the McKay Creek Water Rights Switch, a priority project for the DRC. The project will restore the natural hydrograph, or all available flows, to a six mile reach of McKay Creek, improving habitat and water quality for reintroduced steelhead and native redband trout. To do this, the project provides OID water to landowners who currently divert water directly from McKay Creek, in exchange for permanently restoring the McKay Creek water rights to the stream.

The plan is out for public comment until September 30th.


(Shared with permission from Farmer’s Conservation Alliance) 

Virtual public meeting scheduled for September 16, 2020

System modifications to improve irrigation efficiencies, serve additional lands, and promote water savings in Ochoco Irrigation District are under review through a federal environmental planning process that began in August 2019. 

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has reviewed the potential impacts of the Ochoco Irrigation District Infrastructure Modernization Project and released a Draft Watershed Plan-Environmental Assessment (Draft Plan-EA) on September 1, 2020.

Ochoco Irrigation District proposes to replace 10.1 miles of open unlined earthen canals with 9.2 miles of buried pipelines, install a new pipeline to deliver irrigation water to the upper McKay Creek lands, and complete associated improvements such as replacing aging pump stations and raising canal banks to deepen channels. The proposed project would improve irrigation water management and delivery, reduce district operations and maintenance costs, improve public safety along piped sections, and enhance streamflow in McKay Creek and the Crooked River.

Installing a new pipeline in the upper reaches of McKay Creek would improve water supply reliability for farmers and ranchers in that area while restoring the seasonal flow of up to 11.2 cubic feet per second of streamflow in a portion of the creek. Converting open-ditch irrigation canals into underground, closed-pipe systems would reduce water loss from seepage by an estimated 5.9 cubic feet per second, of which 4.8 cfs would be allocated instream in the Crooked River.

The Deschutes Basin Board of Control is the lead project sponsor with Ochoco Irrigation District as a co-sponsor. Funding and technical support is provided from NRCS, the Deschutes River Conservancy, the Energy Trust of Oregon, and Farmers Conservation Alliance. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is a cooperating federal agency on the Watershed Plan EA and holds title to many of the facilities that will undergo modifications as part of this project.

NRCS, the District, and FCA will host a virtual public meeting on September 16, 2020, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. to discuss the Draft Plan-EA and answer questions about the project. Register for the meeting and view the Draft Plan-EA at www.oregonwatershedplans.org. A recording of the meeting will be available afterward at the same website. A printed copy of the Draft Plan-EA is also available at the Crook County Library (175 NW Meadow Lakes Drive Prineville, OR 97754).

Public comments on the Draft Plan-EA may be submitted from September 1, 2020 through September 30, 2020. Comments may be emailed to ochoco.id.comments@gmail.com, submitted online at www.oregonwatershedplans.org, or mailed to Farmers Conservation Alliance, 102 State Street, Hood River, OR 97031.

After the public comment period, NRCS will evaluate the comments and incorporate them into a Final Plan-EA. If NRCS issues a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the project and authorizes the Final Plan-EA, the project can move into final design and construction.

The project may be partially funded through the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program, administered by NRCS and authorized by Public Law 83-566. Through this program, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to local organizations (project sponsors) for planning and carrying out watershed projects that help solve natural resource and related economic problems in a specific watershed. These issues can include watershed protection, flood prevention, erosion and sediment control, water supply, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat enhancement, and wetlands creation. The authorized purpose for the proposed project is Agricultural Water Management.

For more information about this and other irrigation modernization projects in Oregon, visit www.oregonwatershedplans.org, call Farmers Conservation Alliance at 541-716-6085 or visit the NRCS Oregon public notice webpage at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/or/newsroom/pnotice/.