October 16, 2007 - Views on Canal Piping

October 16, 2007
October 16, 2007 - Views on Canal Piping

Canal piping good for river, people
By Gary Blake / Bulletin guest columnist
September 7, 2007

Recently, letter writer John Robbins opined that property owners have been ignored in the piping project process. Mr. Robbins did not mention that he is a board member of the Central Oregon Irrigation District. He is also an irrigator in COID, and the district diverts water from the Deschutes River that benefits his property.

It is important for honest, open dialogue about the piping process. The common goal is to ensure that there is enough water in the Deschutes for irrigation, recreational enjoyment and a healthy fish habitat. It is not a time for unfounded, hysterical diatribes against mysterious, unnamed “big government” conspirators.

As a COID board member, Mr. Robbins is aware of the need to conserve water, provide for public safety, deliver irrigation water efficiently to his district’s members and of the reduced cost to his district from piping the canal that passes through his property.

Over the last five years, three irrigation districts — COID, Swalley and Tumalo — have installed 10.01 miles of piping that have resulted in leaving 32.07 cfs (more than 3.7 billion gallons) of water in the Deschutes each irrigation season. The river has never looked healthier, and, to my knowledge, property owners have not experienced the mayhem Mr. Robbins purports will be the result of installing these piping “lifelines.”

The “main canals” of both Swalley and COID are not protected by “easements,” but by federally granted rights of way, as legal counsel has apprised the COID board. These rights of way were issued to the districts under the Federal Right of Way Act of 1891 to allow for the delivery of irrigation water to settlers. In the 1860s, up to 1 million acres of arid land were granted to any western state making a request under the Desert Land Act (the Carey Act) so that settlers would come to arid parts of Oregon and develop the land.

The irrigation canals were not built to:

• Provide a scenic amenity;
• Enhance property values;
• Be a receptacle for stormwater runoff;
• Receive garbage and grass cuttings from property owners; or
• Provide a rafting or swimming experience.

Anyone contemplating a property purchase should understand irrigation easements, rights of way and the district policies that affect the property.

Before Swalley Irrigation District undertook its piping project, it researched the impacts of piping versus lining, held “town halls” open to its members, the public and the press. Swalley held an election in 2004 specifically for approval of its piping project. During the past four years, the news media has thoroughly covered the issues and the debate. Affected landowners cannot claim ignorance of the canal piping projects.

Before initiating its piping projects, Swalley studied the costs and benefits of piping versus lining. Lining for the 5.1-mile Swalley project is one-third the cost of the piping (not the one-tenth claimed by Mr. Robbins). However, lining has a limited life due to temperature fluctuations in Central Oregon and has to be replaced every 10 to 15 years. Pipe lasts more than 50 years. Long term, it costs less for piping than lining.

There are other benefits to piping:


Lining canals speeds the flow of the water to almost double that of an unlined canal. When water flows at 6.6 feet per second, instead of 3.6 feet per second, the slick lining makes it dangerous and almost impossible to escape the canal.

Water loss.

While lining helps with reducing seepage, it does not do away with loss of water due to evaporation.


Water and energy conservation benefits from piping are significantly greater than with lining. One-quarter of Swalley’s total water right (27 cubic feet per second) will go directly into the Deschutes, and water users will be able to pressurize their systems and reduce their electrical and pumping costs.

Renewable resource.

Energy generated from the district’s hydro plant will go into the grid and provide decentralized power opportunities here in Central Oregon, which hopefully will keep power costs down, while helping to provide a more secure, reliable power source.

Taxpayers and Swalley’s users are not paying for Swalley’s project — it is financed by grants from private foundations, the state lottery program, funds from the Oregon Department of Energy bond sales and energy sales.

Everyone who lives or recreates in Central Oregon should contribute to making the Deschutes River basin a healthy, sustainable ecosystem. The Swalley piping project works for the district and for the common good.

Gary Blake lives in Tumalo and is on the board of the Swalley Irrigation District.

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An aerial view of a body of water.