County hearing nears in Bend-area canal piping proposal

June 12, 2014
County hearing nears in Bend-area canal piping proposal

Central Oregon Irrigation District not alone in considering canal piping

By Elon Glucklich

With less than three weeks before a public hearing over a controversial Central Oregon Irrigation District proposal to pipe a northeast Bend canal, another local irrigation district could be following in its footsteps.

But the Arnold Irrigation District may also be exploring a middle ground, cutting down on water leakage without closing off the canal entirely.

The district applied for $6,800 in state funding to study whether converting a southwest Bend canal to closed pipe, or lining the bottom with concrete or another material, would reduce water loss into the canal soil.

The study cost is $13,636. Arnold Irrigation District officials didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment this week.

The Central Oregon Irrigation District plan, meanwhile, has riled up several dozen homeowners who live along its Pilot Butte Canal, near Northeast 18th Street and Old Deschutes Road.

Those homeowners have protested at several meetings that the proposal to take out nearly a mile of the canal and convert it to closed pipe would devastate their home values and take a big bite out of the natural beauty of their properties. The canal, more than 100 years old, winds through many of their backyards.

District officials have argued they need to pipe the canal to prevent water from seeping into the soil. They’ve also said they need to pipe it to increase water flows to a 5-megawatt hydroelectric power plant it operates at Juniper Ridge, further north on the canal. Piping speeds up water flows, generating more potential hydroelectric power, district officials have said.

Reached Wednesday, new Central Oregon Irrigation District manager Craig Horrell said lining the canal isn’t a realistic option. He said lining would cost the district far more in the long run than piping, because of the upkeep that’s needed as the canal lining ages and wears down.

Lining the Pilot Butte Canal “would help some, but the maintenance is such that you would keep having (water) losses,” Horrell said. “It doesn’t give you 100 percent of the water savings.”

The district last year proposed piping a 4,500-foot stretch of the canal under its previous manager, Steve Johnson. In December, the district started lobbying Deschutes County to change part of its development code, which would have given it outright permission to pipe its canals without seeking special permits.

But homeowners along the canal have been vocal in their opposition, with some telling county planning commissioners Johnson tried intimidating them into signing documents that said they were on board with the piping plan. Neighbors have said they’d prefer just about any option besides piping, and some have mentioned lining it as a possible alternative, because it would preserve the canal while addressing the leaks.

Last month, planning commissioners recommended denying the district’s code change proposal. But their opinion isn’t binding. It’s meant to guide Deschutes County commissioners, who have the final say.

Upcoming hearing

County commissioners are hearing the case July 2. And even if they vote against the irrigation district, the district could still possibly move forward by applying to the county for a conditional use permit, though the process could take years.

“I understand the reason they have issues,” Horrell said of the opposition from neighbors to the piping plan. “We would love to have a discussion with the neighbors when we get to that point, and maybe that will be at the (July 2) hearing.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,

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