April 19, 2009 - Water Officials Hope $4M for Irrigation is Just the Start of the Stimulus Funding

April 20, 2009
April 19, 2009 - Water Officials Hope $4M for Irrigation is Just the Start of the Stimulus Funding

Water officials hope $4M for irrigation is just the start of the stimulus funding flow

By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin

Published: April 19. 2009 4:00AM PST

With $81 million worth of irrigation-related projects to choose from, the Deschutes River Conservancy has no shortage of options for using the stimulus money it will receive from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“It’s really not a matter of whether there’s projects, it’s a matter of which projects,” said Tod Heisler, executive director of the nonprofit river conservancy.

The commitment for about $4 million from the Bureau of Reclamation was announced last week, and the Deschutes River Conservancy and area irrigation districts are hoping that it is just the first in a series of stimulus fund announcements that helps convert open irrigation ditches to underground pipes and makes other infrastructure improvements to irrigation districts.

“We’re committed to a bunch of projects, and now it’s putting all the financing pieces together,” Heisler said.

The projects will not only produce construction jobs rebuilding irrigation diversions, installing new fish screens and replacing ditches with pipes, but they will also support watershed restoration and result in more water flowing down the Deschutes River, Heisler said. And that, in turn, leads to better fish habitat.

“Fundamentally it’s supporting an ecosystem services industry, which is and should be a growth industry in the state of Oregon,” he said, noting there are lots of areas that could use the help.

The river conservancy is one of the few nonprofit groups receiving stimulus money from the regional Bureau of Reclamation, said Rick Rieber, a fisheries biologist with the federal agency.

“It wasn’t very difficult at all to provide the information to support the DRC in getting stimulus funds,” he said. “It’ll be exciting to see how they use those funds, and how much more water they can put in the Deschutes.”

Heisler said his organization hasn’t yet decided on the exact projects the stimulus money will fund — a lot depends on where other funds are distributed. Additional money could come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Jan Lee, Swalley Irrigation District manager, said that her district’s projects to finish installing pipe on its main canal and construct a small hydropower facility are ready to go, if the projects get funded.

“It’s work that we would do if we had the money,” she said, adding that the projects will cost about $5 million.

Swalley has applied to the Department of Environmental Quality and the Bureau of Reclamation for funds, and should know in a month or so whether its bid was successful.

The Central Oregon Irrigation District has applied for funds from those agencies as well, for its project to replace a canal ditch with pipe in the Juniper Ridge area, district manager Steve Johnson said.

Stimulus money could lead to some significant irrigation system improvements in the coming years, Heisler said.

“These are obviously really big numbers and make a huge difference,” he said.

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 541-617-7811 or at kramsayer@bendbulletin.com.

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