City receiving a major water rights boost

October 29, 2019
City receiving a major water rights boost

By Jason Chaney

Agreement reached that will finally provide city of Prineville the 5,100 acre-feet of water promised in Bowman Dam billA decade-long pursuit of more water rights for the city of Prineville is about to pay off in a big way in the near future.

The Prineville City Council approved a resolution last week that will authorize an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation that includes not only the city but Ochoco Irrigation District and Oregon Water Resources Department.

The end result is the city will boost the amount of groundwater it can pump locally by more than 4.1 billion gallons per year. According to City Engineer Eric Klann, Prineville currently consumes about 600 million gallons of water annually.

"This is a long time coming. We have been working on this for about 10 years," Klann said of the process to secure the water rights.

He explained that Prineville is included in the Deschutes Groundwater Mitigation Area and consequently each gallon of water they pump out of the ground must be replaced by releasing water into the Crooked River. And that process involves securing the water rights to release it in-stream.

"It is a big onerous process," he said. "If we go drill a new well, we have to find these water right. It is a little bit tougher for us because these water rights have to be in the Crooked River zone of impact.

"The water rights can be expensive too. Klann noted that in 2006, the city was in need of water rights and they purchased 104.4 credits, which cost the municipality more than $200,000.

In an effort to secure more water rights in the years ahead and boost the city's capacity for future growth, the municipality began working with federal lawmakers on House Rule 2640 back in 2009. It would take five years, but ultimately federal legislation known as the Crooked River Collaborative Water Security and Jobs Act passed and signed into law.

The legislation enabled the eventual construction of a hydroelectric power plant on Bowman Dam by moving a federal Wild and Scenic boundary off of the crest of the dam and a quarter-mile downriver. In addition, it allocated water in Prineville Reservoir behind the dam for fish habitat on Crooked River and created more water certainty for local irrigation customers.

But one benefit of the legislation has taken five more years to materialize. The bill provided the city of Prineville 5,100 acre-feet of reservoir water that could be applied to mitigate groundwater pumping. Klann pointed out that the 5,100 acre-feet of water would amount to roughly $11 million worth of water rights, using 2006 rates.

Making the situation even sweeter for the city, Klann noted that several different water conservation efforts throughout the past few years have resulted in the city having a 40% consumptive rate.

"What that means is if we use 100 gallons, 60 gallons of that is going to work its way back into the system and back into the river," he said. "We only have to mitigate for that consumptive portion, and this is where it gets interesting. By getting that (legislation) into law at 40%, we can convert those 5,100 acre-feet into almost 13,000 acre-feet. What does that mean for us? We can now pump an additional 4.1 billion gallons of water per year.

"The Prineville City Council approved the resolution last Tuesday night after Mayor Steve Uffelman and City Manager Steve Forrester praised the recent development and what it means for Prineville's future.

"Very few cities are in a position like we are," Forrester said, "where we have, in essence, solved a big part of the future water capacity for this community."​

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