Deschutes River Conservancy awarded $2.7 million to pay for lateral piping projects

April 24, 2023
Deschutes River Conservancy awarded $2.7 million to pay for lateral piping projects

The Bureau of Reclamation recently announced new funding to help pay for canal piping projects Central Oregon. The piping is expected to save water that will eventually help boost water levels in the Deschutes River.

On Friday, the Bureau of Reclamation announced an award of $2.7 million to the Deschutes River Conservancy, the nonprofit that is helping three irrigation districts convert their open ditches to pipelines.

The total cost of the project is $5.4 million. The Conservancy will seek matching funds from state agencies to cover the balance.

As moderate to extreme drought continues to linger over all of Central Oregon, projects to conserve water are moving ahead with urgency. The conversion of open canals and ditches to pipelines has been one of the main efforts undertaken by irrigation districts to alleviate the impacts of drought.

In addition to water conservation, these projects help districts adhere to targets established by the Deschutes River Habitat Conservation Plan, which requires increasing the level of the Deschutes over a 30-year period to improve habitat for the threatened Oregon spotted frog and several species of fish.

Central Oregon, North Unit, and Arnold irrigation districts are among those impacted by the infrastructure upgrades.

Kate Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, said construction of the project is slated for 2024-25. She explains that a major focus of water conservation is still replacing the main canals with large pipes. But optimizing the efficiency of those large pipes requires that the smaller ditches that branch off the main canal also receive piping upgrades.

“In areas where fully piped and pressurized water systems are in place, water savings are maximized,” she said. “Water marketing activities can also increase as operational issues associated with leaky ditches go away.”

The project announced last week will replace more than 6 miles of earthen canal with a high-density polyethylene pipeline. The work will convert open lateral ditches, rather than the main canals that funnel water away from the Deschutes River.

The project also includes installing control and data acquisition systems at 10 locations along the Pilot Butte Canal. This technology will improve Central Oregon Irrigation District’s ability to measure and track water deliveries, which can assist in the sharing of water between irrigation districts, known as water marketing.Once complete, the project will conserve an estimated 1,548 acre-feet of water each year — water that is currently lost to seepage in the porous bottom of the open laterals.

The conserved water can be stored in Wickiup Reservoir in the winter for release during critical periods for species. It can also be left in the Deschutes River in the summer to provide increased water flows with cooler temperatures for sensitive fish.

The $2.7 million grant was announced as part of a $140 million investment for water conservation and efficiency projects in 15 Western states. The funds are provided through the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Once complete, the 84 approved projects will conserve 230,000 acre-feet annually, equivalent to 77 billion gallons of water.

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