Guest Column: Oregon needs to invest in Deschutes water now

May 18, 2023
Guest Column: Oregon needs to invest in Deschutes water now

By Kate Fitzpatrick

Despite the recent rain, the Deschutes Basin has experienced several years of extreme and extended drought, exacerbating long-standing water supply issues. Rivers such as the Deschutes and Crooked don’t have the water they need. Approximately half of the farmland in Jefferson County’s North Unit Irrigation District lay fallow last year with insufficient water to support some of the most productive farmers in the basin.

Fortunately, basin partners have been working together for decades to implement projects that address these issues. Thanks in part to a once-in-a-generation infusion of funding available through federal infrastructure investment, these projects are on the cusp of accelerating. These funds, however, can only be accessed if non-federal match funding is secured. Timely state investment in these projects would restore critical flows in our rivers. This proposed investment is working its way through the state Legislature right now.Representatives Helm and Owens have introduced a comprehensive water investment package, the Bipartisan Drought Relief and Water Security Package (BiDRAWS), into the legislature. This $500 million package would increase the state’s investment in water management to address critical environmental, irrigation and drinking water needs. Several components of this package would accelerate flow restoration in the Deschutes Basin at a critical time when irrigators are working to improve the habitat of native fish and the Oregon spotted frog.

These include:

• $70 million for irrigation modernization match for federal funds (statewide).

Large-scale canal piping is a proven and successful tool that has restored over 130 cubic feet per second to the basin’s rivers to date. The Deschutes irrigation districts could utilize a significant portion of this funding to mobilize $30 million of federal funding over the next two years to pipe canals and significantly accelerate flow restoration, while increasing reliability of irrigation water for farmers.

• $2 million for Deschutes drought resiliency and watershed restoration.

This investment in water marketing, increased water measurement, on-farm efficiency upgrades and habitat restoration is the most effective and timely way to complement large-scale canal piping to meet the flow and watershed needs in the Deschutes Basin. This investment leverages secured federal funding.

• $250,000 for the development of a Deschutes Basin integrated water plan.

The existing Deschutes Basin Water Collaborative needs support to finalize a comprehensive water plan for the basin that will meet the needs of farmers, rivers, and cities, and will ensure broad consensus to support implementation.

There are many competing priorities in the state right now, but water is critical to all of us. Please encourage your legislators to support these investments to accelerate the proven and successful work of basin partners to restore flows while supporting our community.

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