Guest Column: Residents want a collaborative solution with Arnold irrigation plans

August 12, 2021
Guest Column: Residents want a collaborative solution with Arnold irrigation plans

It’s good to see that The Bulletin is making water resource policy and river habitat conservation a front-and-center issue — it’s just unfortunate that it chooses to let an irrigation district -driven, pro-pipeline propaganda piece lead their editorial content on the matter.

While it may be true that some Bend residents are happily oblivious to issues of water scarcity, I can assure you that the over 400 residents who live along the Arnold main canal are very aware of the issue, despite Arnold Irrigation District’s lack of public engagement on its piping proposal. We have been seeking a collaborative solution that addresses the Arnold canal’s seepage problem in order to keep more water in Wickiup Reservoir for improved upper Deschutes River habitat for frogs and fish for over two years — but neither the irrigation district nor its nonlocal consultants have been willing to have that conversation.

Whether the better solution might be a segmental piping plan, canal lining of a variety of different proven methods, water banking, aquifer storage and recovery, or some combination of these approaches, Arnold Irrigation District remains unwilling to consider any of them because the $27.8 million of easy taxpayer-funded grant money earmarked for a pipeline apparently has blinded them to better ideas that provide irrigation water savings but with fewer costs.

The 13-mile Arnold main canal has been in use continuously since 1905. It is an established, seasonal riparian ecosystem that while human-made is certainly not distinguished as such by thousands of mature ponderosa or the wildlife that utilize it for water, habitat and travel. Nor do the over 550 groundwater wells operating on people’s property within a mile of the main canal make a distinction between natural or human-caused aquifer recharge — they simply fail when the groundwater dries up. The natural versus not-natural argument is simplistic — one could argue our human presence here on the high desert is largely not natural. And yet here we are — and like it or not, human costs are part of the calculus.

A buried pipeline chokes off all water to the established canal ecosystem and will also cause a range of $18,470,000 to $55,410,000 in property damages (by the district’s own plan document’s estimate of 10%-30% likely property value loss applied to the total Deschutes County market value of the 430 properties touching the main canal).

This corridor of needless destruction is not a myth — it has already happened in the Swalley and Tumalo irrigation districts, and residents there can attest to the devastation that piping has caused without bringing the benefits to improved irrigation water delivery that were promised. Tumalo Irrigation District is currently being sued by property owners for these damages — and rightly so. All the other solutions mentioned above avoid these results.

Arnold Irrigation District and its board of directors (none of whose owned properties are on the main canal) are not motivated by a desire to improve frog and fish habitat — they are motivated to sell irrigation water and pushed along by the federal mandates of the Deschutes River Habitat Conservation Plan, which requires that all irrigation districts contribute to increasing nonirrigation season stream flows in the upper Deschutes three-fold by 2028.

Any of Arnold Irrigation District’s conservation claims should be suspect, especially when considering that Arnold irrigation fails to disclose that it owns 7 acres of Deschutes riverfront property on the bank opposite from Widgi Creek golf course that stands to be enhanced by the piping project; considering that its concerns for water conservation has not prevented the district from facilitating AID water rights being used to keep private luxury resort Tanager’s water ski lake full, and considering that it proposes burying the historic diversion flume under a mile-long earthen-dam-like structure within the protected Deschutes Wild and Scenic River Area (more info on that in this video:

We think it’s time Arnold Irrigation District comes to the table to seek a solution for its canal that isn’t all about the money, and there’s still time to start this conversation.

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