March 25, 2008 - Bend Bulletin Swalley Canal Going Underground

March 25, 2008
March 25, 2008 - Bend Bulletin Swalley Canal Going Underground

Across Central Oregon, irrigation districts are replacing open canals with underground pipes to save water. And just off U.S. Highway 97, construction crews have undertaken the largest such project in the state in an effort to conserve flows in the Deschutes River.

The Swalley Irrigation District is in the middle of an $11 million project to replace more than five miles of open irrigation canals with underground pipe, which will continue to deliver water to farmers and ranchers north of Bend.

The district decided to pipe the five miles through Bend because a consultant identified that as the area where most of the water was seeping out.

“That was where the worst water losses were,” said Jan Lee, the district’s general manager. “When subdivisions were built, they do blasting, and the basalt geology gets fractured even more.”

Piping those miles will save the district about a quarter of the water it diverts from the Deschutes, meaning better water quality and habitat for fish, Lee said.

Swalley would like to pipe most of its network of canals. But, according to Tod Heisler, executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy, only about 20 percent of the region’s canal system would have to be piped to provide the water savings that biologists say is needed to create a healthy environment for fish and other aquatic wildlife.

Plans to pipe the canal surfaced in 2001, with the idea that the city of Bend would finance the project.

Neighbors of the canal sued to stop it, but in February a judge ruled in favor of the irrigation district.

Funding is coming from such agencies as the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and other private and public groups.

— Kate Ramsayer, The Bulletin

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