Swalley Irrigation plans 16-mile canal piping project

September 24, 2018
Swalley Irrigation plans 16-mile canal piping project

BEND, Ore. - Advancements in irrigation efficiency are on the horizon for farmers and ranchers in the Swalley Irrigation District, pending completion of a federal environmental planning process that began two years ago on a project to pipe more than 16 miles of canals and laterals, a federal agency said Monday.

 Project partners released a Draft Watershed Plan-Environmental Assessment (Draft Plan-EA) on Friday for the Swalley Irrigation District Modernization Project.

The goal of the project is to improve water conservation, water delivery reliability, and public safety on 16.6 miles of canals and laterals owned by the irrigation district.

Officials say the project would increase flows in the Deschutes River downstream of North Canal Dam during the irrigation season and reduce energy use associated with pumping.

The more than century-old irrigation district, smallest in the region, already has piped nearly 10 miles of canals, it states on its Website.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has reviewed the potential impacts of the new project and released a Draft Plan-EA.

NRCS and project partners will host a public meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 10 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. to discuss the Draft Plan-EA, answer questions about the project, and collect public comments.

The meeting will take place at Cascades Academy, 19860 Tumalo Reservoir Road in Bend.

The meeting location is accessible to persons with disabilities. A request for an interpreter for the hearing impaired or for other accommodations for persons with disabilities should be made at least 48 hours before the meeting to David McKay at (541) 716-6085 or David.McKay@fcasolutions.org.

The Draft Plan-EA is available for public review on the project website at: www.oregonwatershedplans.org. Printed copies of the plan are also available at the Deschutes Public Library (507 NW Wall St in Bend), the Swalley Irrigation District Office (64672 Cook Ave, Suite 1 in Bend), and the USDA Redmond Service Center (625 SE Salmon Ave, Suite 4 in Redmond).

Public comments about the Draft Plan-EA may be submitted through Oct. 24 to swalleycomments@gmail.com, submitted online at www.oregonwatershedplans.org, or via mail to: Farmers Conservation Alliance, 11 3rd Street, Suite 101, Hood River, OR 97031.

After the public comment period, project partners will evaluate the comments and incorporate them into a Final Watershed Plan-EA. Once the Final Watershed Plan-EA is in place with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) released, construction may begin.

Project Background

Aging infrastructure, growing populations, shifting rural economies, and changing climate conditions have increased pressure on water resources across the western U.S. Within the Deschutes Basin, irrigated agriculture (the primary out-of-stream water use in the area) relies on infrastructure that is over 100-years-old to store, divert, and deliver water to produce food, other crops, and water for other uses as well as drive local economies across the region.

Irrigation canals have become a public health safety risk and require increasing maintenance due to the age of the existing system. This contributes to water supply insecurity for out-of-stream users and limits stream flow, affecting water quality and in-stream habitat in the Deschutes River and its tributaries.

The Swalley Irrigation District operates and maintains approximately 28 miles of main canal and laterals, including some segments that are already piped. The district proposes to modernize its infrastructure by converting up to 16.6 miles of open canal, lateral, and aging pipe to buried pipe.

The district provides irrigation water to 668 patrons and 4,333 acres using one diversion on the Deschutes River which is shared with two other irrigation districts. Water is delivered to patrons through a series of pipes and open canals; un-piped sections lose approximately 23 percent of the water to seepage and evaporation.

Delivering sufficient flows to patrons in the spring and fall is a challenge due to inefficient and outdated infrastructure, along with new environmental demands and drought. The Swalley Irrigation District operates and maintain irrigation diversions that contribute to low flows in the Deschutes River downstream from the North Canal Dam. Low flows diminish water quality and habitat quality for fish and aquatic species.

The project may be partially funded through the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention program, administered by NRCS and authorized by Public Law 83-566. Through this program, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to local organizations (project sponsors) for planning and carrying out watershed projects that help solve natural resource and related economic problems in a specific watershed. These issues can include watershed protection, flood prevention, erosion and sediment control, water supply, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat enhancement, and wetlands creation.

This project is a team effort between the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Deschutes Basin Board of Control and the Swalley Irrigation District to help Oregon irrigators conserve water, reduce energy consumption, increase irrigation delivery efficiency, improve public safety, and benefit instream habitat for fish and aquatic species. Project funding is being considered through the NRCS Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act.

Similar planning efforts are also underway in neighboring irrigation districts. For more information about this and other Central Oregon irrigation modernization efforts, visit www.oregonwatershedplans.org or visit the NRCS Oregon public notice webpage.

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