Editorial: Reject controversial canal piping in residential neighborhoods

June 24, 2014
Editorial: Reject controversial canal piping in residential neighborhoods

By Jeff Perreault

Central Oregon Irrigation District is proposing to destroy a reach of the historic Pilot Butte Canal in a northeast Bend residential neighborhood to expand its Juniper Ridge hydropower facility.

COID has described the project as something that will adversely impact a few homeowners but benefit the community at large. If that were true, then the Deschutes County Planning Commission wouldn’t have voted unanimously against COID’s effort.

Proponents of the piping want you to believe that this is a conservation effort. It’s not. The community has offered to discuss alternatives, such as lining that would achieve identical conservation at 10 percent of the cost. COID isn’t interested in cost savings because 100 percent of the funds are from outside sources, the majority being our taxpayer dollars.

More to the point, COID rejected alternatives that won’t enable it to generate hydropower revenue. Utilities like Pacific Power are forced to buy this power at significantly above wholesale rates. COID would use the revenue to benefit its 4,000 customers while the other 160,000 of us pick up the tab.

All property in the project area is privately owned. It was purchased at a premium to adjacent properties because of the canal. Property owners have paid, and continue to pay, higher taxes on this land. COID’s project would destroy not only the canal, but much of the private property owners’ value. COID is proposing to do this without consent or compensation.

Proponents argue that the project will “save” about 8 cubic feet per second of Deschutes River water. What they won’t tell you is that only 1.6 cfs will actually be left in the Deschutes. The other 6.4 cfs will still be taken from the river, put through COID’s hydropower facility to generate revenue and then handed off to another district (North Unit Irrigation District) for irrigation in Crook and Jefferson counties. A corresponding amount may be left in the Crooked River, but that’s of no benefit to the Middle Deschutes. If this is Deschutes River water being “saved,” then why isn’t it being left in the Deschutes?

Proponents argue that there’ll be an increase in safety if the canal is piped. There are more accidents involving the Deschutes River in a typical month than there have been in the last 40 years of the Pilot Butte Canal. Would these same proponents argue that we pipe the river to make for a “safer” community?

In fact, hydropower facilities present significant safety concerns. A view of the current intake during the six months the canal isn’t running shocks most folks. The forebay has sheer, 30- foot rock walls dropping precipitously to a rocky floor. The area is bounded on three sides by a razor-wire topped cyclone fence. However, children can simply walk around the fence on the fourth side, and any falls into the forebay would likely be fatal.

The section of the Pilot Butte Canal that COID is attempting to destroy to expand its hydropower facilities includes private properties within the city of Bend and adjacent properties in Deschutes County. The entire project area is governed by the Bend Area General Plan. Current code doesn’t allow hydropower facilities within Bend residential neighborhoods, or as an outright use in the adjacent county residential neighborhood. Hydropower facility proposals have to include public meetings and involvement.

And this is exactly what COID is attempting to avoid. It’s asking the county to change the rules so it can move forward without public involvement. The rule change, if passed, would be so extreme that even the Deschutes County commissioners wouldn’t have a future seat at the table.

COID maintains 450 miles of canals in Central Oregon. Current code allows them to pipe to its heart’s content on 440 of those 450 miles. COID should limit its controversial projects to that 98 percent of its system and leave residential neighborhoods the quiet and safe environments we all love and cherish.

— Jeff Perreault lives in Bend.

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