It's Irrigation Time!
Apr 25, 2018
Where does the water go, and how do we conserve it?BY CHRIS MILLER
Perhaps you're new to Bend and wonder why in the winter, you see barren canals that travel north and east of town. Then come April 15, the same canals are brimming with cold, clear water.
Central Oregon was traditionally an agricultural community, and the canals bring water to farms and ranches. The water comes from the Deschutes River—or, more specifically, from Wickiup Reservoir, constructed in 1949 to provide water for the North Irrigation District and farmers in Jefferson County.
However, according to a Source article in 2017, the water that flows through the Central Oregon Irrigation District's canals lose 40 to 60 percent of their water due to ground loss and evaporation. COID is addressing the issue. The district piped 3,000 feet of
Phase one, slated to happen from 2018 to 2019, would pipe the main canal in the Smith Rock area of COID's irrigation system, according to a document from COID the Source obtained from the Deschutes River Conservancy. The $40 million project will immediately conserve 30 cubic feet per second, and when completed, is expected to add an additional 30 to 40
Phase two would tackle what COID's representatives say is the area responsible for the largest water loss in the entire system: the canal that runs from the North Canal Dam to the Juniper Ridge Hydroelectric area. This $35 million project is expected to conserve 40
These flow returns could help mitigate low-water year issues, such as in October 2013 when an estimated 3,000 fish were killed near Lava Island Falls, according to a story in Bend Magazine titled, "The Deschutes Basin's Last Great Problem."
Tye Krueger, who owns Bend's Confluence Fly Shop, said he understands the many voices when it comes to the river flows and uses.
"From my perspective as a shop owner and farmer most of my life, I completely understand [people irrigating their fields.] Who wouldn't want to do that?" he said.
Aleta Warren is a staunch opponent to piping the canals. She told the Source in 2017, "This was dug in 1903, it needs to be protected and cherished, not only for the wildlife—the ducks, geese, frogs
Before the construction of the reservoir and dam, the Deschutes—a spring-fed river—flowed at a fairly even rate: 500-800
Since the dam was constructed in 1966, flows vary with the seasons. During the storage season, from November to March, the Deschutes' average flow was 200
These large swings in water flow can put users of the Deschutes on opposite banks when it comes to water management. Fishermen want the flows back toward the traditional ones to save the native trout that used to run in the upper river. Farmers and ranchers need the water the Deschutes provides to keep their otherwise arid lands growing.
Ultimately, water in the canals ends up in farmers' fields, which can be considered another point of contention. According to statistics from a 2006 report from the Deschutes Water Alliance's "Growth, Urbanization and Land Use Change: Impacts on Agriculture and Irrigation Districts in Central Oregon," in Deschutes County the average per-acre net cash farm income was negative $51 for non-exclusive farmland.
However, with the increasing cost of land in Deschutes County—and the possibility of a large tax burden—people with water rights tend to use them to keep their land in farm deferral. Farm use is defined by the Oregon Department of Revenue as, "the current employment of land for the primary purpose of obtaining a profit in money by: raising harvesting and selling crops; feeding, breeding or management and sale of
Scot Langton, the Deschutes County tax assessor, said the number of years someone could potentially pay back taxes depends on the zoning laws in the area. For instance, if the property was zoned exclusive for farming and not used for that purpose, the owner could face 10 years of back taxes at a non-farm deferral rate. For non-exclusive zoning, the owner could be assessed for five years.
To keep a farm deferral on
According to Oregon's water laws, to keep a water right, the property owner must irrigate at least once every five years in the acreage dedicated for irrigation.
Changing the Game?
"We support this modernization of the infrastructure and working with landowners to help them use water more efficiently," Heisler said.
One way for people with water rights who don't need to use them, and still receive a tax break, is with the Wildlife Habitat Conservation and Management Program through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. According to ODFW's website, "the
For more information on the program, visit dfw.state.or.us/lands/whcmp/.
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