This article was published on: 02/7/22 2:37 PM
BEND, OR – Funding for the Deschutes River Conservancy was included in a $20.5 million package for a suite of 13 drought resiliency projects in five Western states. The Deschutes Basin was the only project site to be selected in Oregon.
The funding will be used by the DRC, its irrigation district partners in the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, and its municipal partners within the Central Oregon Cities Organization, to formalize and operate a Water Bank that can deploy a suite of time and resource-efficient mechanisms to move water between users and the river, to meet the most pressing demands. The Bank will rely wholly on voluntary actions and will be locally controlled by bank partners, including the irrigation districts that hold the majority of the water rights in the basin. Bank activities will be focused on restoring critical streamflows, assuring that farmers get the water they need to grow crops, and securing future water for growing urban communities.
The grant will also fund critical elements of drought management, including enhanced metering and monitoring of water diversions, the ability to better forecast climate conditions and drought impacts on reservoir and river levels, and a strategy to tie these forecasts to needed responses in an accessible and web-based platform.
The formal establishment of a comprehensive bank builds on and ties together the extensive water management work already happening in the basin. Irrigation districts are aggressively piping canals to conserve water. DRC, Central Oregon Irrigation District, and Deschutes Soil and Water Conservation District are funding and implementing on-farm efficiency projects that save additional water. The DRC’s 2022 water bank pilot is underway, providing interested Central Oregon Irrigation District patrons a cash payment to forego use of their water to help North Unit Irrigation District and the river. Additional longstanding programs include the DRC’s Annual Instream Water Leasing Program that restores streamflows, and the Deschutes Groundwater Mitigation Program which provides a framework for cities to secure new water supplies. The market-based tools rely on the use of incentives to allow for water to move on a voluntary basis from less-valued uses to higher-valued uses. The Deschutes Water Bank will tie these efforts together, providing a coordinated umbrella to allow basin partners to meet river and community water needs, while greatly increasing water resiliency in the face of climate change and more frequent drought conditions.
The funding could not have come at a better time. Central Oregon is currently in a drought of historical significance. Extraordinary low precipitation, coupled with record-setting heatwaves, and compounded by several years of drought prior to this have resulted in devastation to agricultural communities, critical impacts to fish and wildlife throughout the basin, declining groundwater levels, and increased uncertainty for municipal water supplies. According to water experts, forecasts for this summer offer no indication that this hot and dry trend will break soon.
“We are living in unprecedented times in the Western United States,” said Kate Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Deschutes River Conservancy. “The status quo system of water management is not working for rivers or farmers in the Deschutes Basin, and we’re seeing the consequences in our depleted rivers and in dried up, fallowed fields. Voluntary water banking is one of the ways we envision moving into a more resilient future. Paired with water conservation projects (irrigation district piping and on-farm efficiency improvements) and better stewardship, we feel confident that there will be the water supplies needed for rivers, farms, and communities. We are proud to model with our partners how communities can come together to solve difficult water issues.”
Craig Horrell, President of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control said, “Deschutes Basin irrigation districts are committed to adapting to the changing climate conditions and taking a collaborative approach to improving water reliability in a way that does the most good for farmers, the community, and the environment. The $1.37 million investment in the Deschutes Basin will be utilized to find better and more efficient ways to move and monitor water for years to come.”
“Climate change presents growing challenges to our communities across the West and the natural systems that we all depend on,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “The Department of the Interior will continue to work with our partners to develop innovative solutions that address the challenges we face.”
“We are excited to continue working with our partners in the basin to address multiple issues, including the need for long-term water supply for the basin’s municipal water providers,” said Richard Ladeby, Chair of the Central Oregon Cities Organization.
The Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) was formed 25 years ago with a mission to restore streamflow and improve water quality in the Deschutes River Basin. In addition to the establishment of the Deschutes Water Bank, the DRC provides programs for on-farm efficiency, water rights leasing & transfers, water conservation, streamflow monitoring, and basin planning. Through partnership and collaborative efforts, the DRC has restored up to 208 cfs (equivalent to 93,357 gallons per minute) of flow in the following focus reaches Deschutes River, Whychus Creek, Crooked River, Tumalo Creek, Trout Creek, McKay Creek. For more information about the DRC visit www.deschutesriver.org
The Deschutes Basin Board of Control (DBBC) is comprised of eight Irrigation Districts including Arnold, Central Oregon, Lone Pine, North Unit, Ochoco, Swalley, Three Sisters, and Tumalo Irrigation Districts. Through the DBBC, formed in 2002, the Districts coordinate and share their respective resources and management assets to conserve water, improve their services for farm and ranch families, and enhance river conditions for wildlife species and recreational opportunities. For more information about the DBBC www.dbbc.com