Prineville pipe manufacturer could help irrigation districts modernize

November 6, 2021
Prineville pipe manufacturer could help irrigation districts modernize

A new business specializing in manufacturing plastic pipe could make irrigation modernization more affordable and accessible in the West.

The Prineville company, Krah USA LLC, is the first plant in the U.S. to manufacture large-diameter, high-density polyethylene pipes, technology developed by the German company, Krah Group.

The technology is favored by European and Asian pipeline engineers for its durability in extreme temperatures, earthquake resistance, flexible nature, recyclability and potential to last decades longer than traditional piping.

Having a major pipe manufacturer in Oregon is a big deal, water experts say, because it cuts shipping costs and times. The nearest polyethylene plants making smaller-diameter pipes are in Texas and Canada — and so far, Krah is the only plant in the nation able to manufacture pipes of this material up to 16.3 feet in diameter.

“There are so many (irrigation) districts interested in piping,” said April Snell, executive director of Oregon Water Resources Congress. “As more irrigation districts look to modernize their aging systems, it’s going to be important to have local options for procuring pipe.”

Marc Thalacker, manager of Three Sisters Irrigation District and serving as part-time consultant to Krah USA, estimated it would cost an Oregon irrigation district $3,000 per pipe to ship 54-inch by 40-foot polyethylene pipes from manufacturers in Texas or Canada. In contrast, shipping from Krah would cost an Oregon district around $600 per pipe.

“This allows irrigation districts to buy pipes without paying high shipping costs,” said Thalacker.

He spoke loudly over the roar of machinery.

Thalacker was standing beside a massive rotating pipe mandrel, or rod, that was slowly being heated like a rotisserie chicken. Strips of black polyethylene, soft at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, were emerging from an extruder machine and being wrapped around the pipe’s rod.

Krah USA is operated by co-CEOs Midge Graybeal and Mark Theetge, both longtime Central Oregon residents.

Theetge, who has sold pipes and worked with irrigation districts for more than 30 years, said he has dreamed of bringing Krah technology to the U.S. for nearly two decades.

He worked to find a location for the manufacturing plant, finally choosing to lease property from the City of Prineville at its railway depot.

“We couldn’t wish for a better partner than the City of Prineville,” said Graybeal.

In 2019, Theetge’s dream came true when the startup received about $15 million in financing from Medalist Capital, a New York investment firm.

Krah USA LLC was formed December 2019, the shop outfitted in 2020 and the grand opening was spring 2021.

One of the company’s first projects, now underway, is an installation for Peoples Irrigation Co., owned by about 34 local farmers.

Two of Peoples Irrigation Co.’s older pipes recently failed, so the City of Prineville, responsible for the pipeline’s maintenance, chose Krah during a bidding process to tear out the old pipeline and install two new, 48-inch diameter pipes.

“I’ve been at the site about every other day to see how they’re doing, and I have no concerns at all. It’s excellent-looking piping,” said John Wangler, board president for Peoples Irrigation Co.

Mike Kasberger, assistant city engineer of public works for the City of Prineville, said Krah provided the city with “a quality product from a local supplier at a competitive price.”

Kasberger said he expects irrigation districts across Oregon will benefit from the new pipe plant.


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