Harnessing Community and Innovation: The Success Story of Three Sisters Irrigation District

September 1, 2023
Harnessing Community and Innovation: The Success Story of Three Sisters Irrigation District

A Modern Approach to Water Conservation and Energy Efficiency

DRC's Programs Manager, Lisa Seales, had the opportunity to help showcase our ongoing initiatives in Whychus Creek in a new film from NRCS about the Three Sisters Irrigation District On-Farm and Renewable Energy project. This collaborative effort showcases the positive outcomes possible when communities, landowners, and various organizations work together to address critical issues like water conservation and sustainability.

The Urgency of Water Conservation in Central Oregon

Central Oregon's high desert landscape and increasing instances of drought bring water conservation to the forefront of concerns for farmers and communities alike. Historically, irrigation in the region was facilitated through open ditch canals that pulled water from Whychus Creek to nourish farmland. However, this method was far from efficient—nearly 55% of the water was lost in transit due to seepage and evaporation. This not only burdened farmers but also led to Whychus Creek running dry two out of every three summers, endangering aquatic habitats and recreational activities.

Embracing Change: Piping and Technology

The Three Sisters Irrigation District, understanding the gravity of the situation, led an ambitious effort to modernize its irrigation infrastructure. The outdated open canal system was replaced with pipelines, drastically reducing water loss and ensuring a more efficient irrigation process. This modernization also eliminated the need for pumps, reducing energy costs and overall environmental impact.

Moreover, the excess water saved could be repurposed. Some of it was used to generate hydropower, while the rest was returned to Whychus Creek, ensuring a steady water flow all summer long.

Real Lives, Real Impact: Lazy Z Ranch

One poignant example featured in the film is that of John Herman, owner of Lazy Z Ranch—a regenerative bee farm. Like many farmers, John struggled with flood irrigation and the inefficiencies it brought. Through the partnership project, he was able to install pivot sprinkler systems connected to the new pipelines. Not only has this transformed his irrigation process, making it more efficient and targeted, but it also allows him to control the systems from his phone.

"This changes the way we farm. It has changed our lives," Herman states in the film, embodying the transformative power of community-driven initiatives.

A Template for the Future

The success of the Three Sisters Irrigation District serves as a shining beacon for what can be accomplished through united efforts. It stands as a proof of concept for other communities grappling with the impacts of climate change and drought.

This project was funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). It involved a broad coalition of partners including NRCS Oregon, Three Sisters Irrigation District, Deschutes Soil and Water Conservation District, Deschutes River Conservancy, private landowners, and many others. To learn more about the project or to apply for funding, visit Three Sisters Irrigation District On-Farm.

"We could not have done this on our own. This [project] was a ton of people coming together to do this with and for us," John adds. His words resonate as a testament to the transformative power of community-driven initiatives like these—initiatives that we at Deschutes River Conservancy are immensely proud to be a part of.

We'd also like to acknowledge the additional funders who have supported our work in Whychus Creek, making this impactful project possible: Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Pelton Round Butte Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Bureau of Reclamation, National Resources Conservation Service

Share this post