Countdown starts for irrigation district to identify route for Pilot Butte Canal pipe

July 27, 2022
Countdown starts for irrigation district to identify route for Pilot Butte Canal pipe

Central Oregon Irrigation District expected to choose from one of three routes in Q3 of 2023

The countdown has begun for residents of northeast Bend to learn the future route of the Pilot Butte piping project, a plan that will end more than a century of use for the canal that runs through the area.In the third quarter of 2023, Central Oregon Irrigation District will identify a preferred route for its proposed piping project, said ShanRae Hawkins, a spokesperson for the district. The piping route is to be included with the project’s draft environmental impact statement.One option includes piping along the existing canal and two other options have the pipe buried underneath city streets.The irrigation district uses the canal to convey water from the Deschutes River to farms and ranches on the High Desert. In Bend, the canal also forms a bucolic backdrop to more than 100 homes in the northeast part of town. If the district moves ahead with its plans to pipe, the canal will still be a backyard feature, albeit one without water.Conveying water through canals is considered outdated due to the porous nature of their rocky bottom. The leaky Pilot Butte Canal experiences 156 cubic feet per second of water loss. Switching to pipes allows the district to conserve water for both farmers and the river.One of the street options has the pipe traveling north along 18th Street, starting where it intersects with Yeoman Road, and then east along Cooley Road. That route is approximately 1.9 miles in length. Selecting this route would require a portion of 18th Street to be opened up so the pipe could be buried before the road is restored.A second route sees the pipe going north along Old Deschutes Road from Yeoman Road, and then east on Cooley Road, a route of approximately 1.4 miles. This route also requires some of Old Deschutes Road to be excavated so the pipe can be buried.There is also a “no action” alternative that retains the current situation of water flowing through the open canal.The final option has the pipe following the current canal route. This option must comply with a 2016 decision that placed a 1.5-mile section of the canal in Bend on the National Register of Historic Places. The placement was made at the request of local residents, many of whom have homes that back up to the canal, which was built in 1905.The historic designation requires that the “historic integrity” of the canal be protected, but it does not require that water actually flow through the canal.“This is the scoping period, so we don’t know how we will handle the historic section,” said Craig Horrell, the district manager for Central Oregon Irrigation District. “That is the process, to figure out what we can and can’t do. We are exploring all the options under the historic rules and guidelines but if this option is chosen (the pipe) would be buried.”A public comment period about the various options left a few local residents frustrated by technical problems associated with the submission process.“The process was not user-friendly,” said northeast Bend resident Don LeBart. “There is no telling how many submissions were not made because people became frustrated and gave up.”The irrigation district said the email system problems have been resolved and due to the technical error, the deadline to submit comments was extended to Aug. 2. As of Wednesday, the district had received around 60 comments. Horrell said more periods to comment will be available within the next year.Public comments will be used by the district as it further develops its draft environmental impact statement. If the current schedule can be maintained, construction of the pipe in Bend will start in late 2025 and will take six to 12 months to complete, said Hawkins.The piping project through Bend is just one part of a larger plan to pipe the entire Pilot Butte Canal between Bend and Smith Rock. A 7.9-mile section from Redmond to Smith Rock was completed earlier this year at a cost of $32 million. That project saves the district 30 cubic feet of water per second.The 21 miles of canal between Bend to Redmond are expected to cost $250 million to pipe and could be completed as early as 2028.Around $188 million of the cost is expected to be sourced from the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act. The act was originally passed in 1954 to prevent flooding and sedimentation but has been since amended to address a broad range of natural resource and environmental issues, including water conservation.The remaining $62.5 million is to be sourced from required matching funds. Sources of funding include the Oregon Legislature and the Special Public Works Fund program.People interested in commenting on the proposed plans can do so until Aug. 2 by emailing the irrigation district at: Kohn

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An aerial view of a body of water.