The April UDRC meeting featured a panel discussion focusing on the Deschutes River water flows and the efforts underway to improve the heath of the river. The panel included: Kyle Gorman, Oregon Water Resources Department, Mike Taylor, Coalition for the Deschutes, Craig Horrell, Central Oregon Irrigation District, Mike Britton, North Unit Irrigation District, Ron Nelson, Deschutes River Conservancy, and Mike Weber, Central Oregon Seed. After introductions, panel members answered questions from the audience.
Kyle: Oregon Water Resources Department regulates water allocations and diversions based on water right priority date and tracks reservoir levels.
Mike T: Coalition for the Deschutes advocates conservation, education, and outreach on river flow issues. Collaborative solutions are more effective than litigation. The Coalition published a Shared Vision for the Deschutes, with core principles covering agriculture, cities, fish, and wildlife.
Craig: Central Oregon Irrigation District distributes 42,000 acre feet water allocation to 3265 patrons with senior water rights. Patrons include small acreage owners, Bend and Redmond businesses.
Mike B: North Unit Irrigation District allocates water to junior water right holders with 60,000 acres of productive farmland in the Madras area. NUID manages Wikiup and Haystack reservoirs. Wikiup supplies 85% of water demand. Farms use high efficiency irrigation methods.
Ron: The Deschutes River Conservancy was authorized by congress in the early 1990s to reduce litigation and promote water quality and quantity in the Deschutes Basin. DRC facilitates collaboration, consensus, and market incentives to conserve water. DRC projects have returned 200 cfs to the lower Deschutes River. DRC is funded by grants and contributions. A fund raising event is scheduled for May 11.
Mike W.: Central Oregon Seed partners with farmers and seed companies to support carrot seed production in Crook and Jefferson counties. Crops are rotated between carrots, grass, and alfalfa. Planting depends on water supply and drought conditions.
Kyle: The 1909 Oregon Code defines private water rights certificates that are attached to the land. A total of 750,000 acre feet is allocated and right holders must use their allocation every 5 years.
Craig: COID piping projects have increased flow over the Bend dam by 120 cfs in the Summer. The Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) has increased the need for conservation. COID has reduced demand by 1/3 through piping, management, and farm practices. $75M in grants for new projects have been awarded. Grants and loans for conservation are available for farm users. A court settlement agreement mandates 100 cfs minimum Winter flow in the Upper Deschutes.
Mike B: A system improvement plan for NUID will cost $1.3B over 30-40 years for the entire district. The HCP is needed to allow a “take” for endangered species (spotted frog). The HCP is a 10 year, $7M process with a draft available this Summer. The goal is 400 cfs minimum flow in the Upper Deschutes.
Ron: Farm efficiency is important. In stream water rights receive a portion of water conserved. I am impressed with recent progress.
Mike T: Saving 50% of water lost to seepage and evaporation could restore the health of the Deschutes River.
Kyle: Some water reaches in Bend area go dry in the Summer. Restoring the Upper Deschutes is more complex.
How many historic districts have been proposed? Can they be bypassed with piping?
Craig: The entire COID canal system is listed as historical. A Redmond site has been designated. Other sites are Juniper Ridge, Brasada, and Ward-Gosney. A pipe bypass is possible for some sites.
Does water loss in canals recharge the acquirer?
Kyle: Natural recharge is very large. About 1/7 is due to the canal system. A small number of shallow private wells are affected.
What is a pressurized system? Are project grant matching funds required?
Craig: 25% matching funds are required. Patrons water rates will be increased. Hydro power projects can subsidize rates. Pipes require pressure regulation which can drive a hydro power system. Mike B: Some projects require 50% match including in-kind contributions. Water rates are $70/acre with a tiered structure.
What is the forecast for Wikiup reservoir water retention?
Kyle: Wikiup reservoir was drained in 2018. The season started dry and demand was high. Season precipitation was below average and natural flow was reduced. 2019 fill is at historic low. Snowpack is above average, natural flow should be higher, allotments will be reduced. Mike W: 30% of acreage in NUID will be fallow, 10% is typical. No more efficiency improvements are currently available.
What is the lease back program?
Ron: DRC has afund to lease water in stream for a season. 1100 acres are leased back within COID. Working on water rights exchanges in future. Kyle: The lease back program benefits the Middle and Lower Deschutes flows.
Does NUID use water from Crooked River?
Mike B: NUID uses water from Prineville Reservoir.
What is tribe involvement with water allocation?
Ron: Tribal lands have water rights from State/Federal 1997 agreement. They have subordinated their rights to existing water rights. Mike B: Irrigation districts have good working relationship with tribes.
Water saved from piping projects is not sufficient. Need more than 300 cfs for restoration.
Craig: 75% of water saved with projects is reserved for conservation. Will strive for higher flows. Mike T: Conservation has a price. Ron: Need more marketing opportunities and efficiency improvements.
When will the Upper Deschutes get help?
Craig: In 5 years more water will be available for successful restoration projects. The channel profiles has been altered. Kyle: Ryan Ranch Forest Service project created 60 acre wetland habitat.
Benefit of lining canals?
Craig: Canal lining projects are impractical due to limited lifetime and Winter failures. Pipes last 100 years.
Will the Deschutes Basin Study allow sharing water among districts?
Craig: The DRC applied for a grant for water marketing to implement the Basin Study. Ron: More flexibility in water law may be possible.
Can sections of canals be bypassed?
Craig: Discussions with property owners are needed. A greenbelt may have value.
Can wetlands provide water flow to river?
Kyle: Wetlands have strong legal protections.
Does the NUID canal cross the Crooked River?
Mike B: A box flume structure carries water across the Crooked River.
Will water rights change?
Craig: Water rights will remain the same. Piping projects and conservation will manage losses.
May UDRC Meeting
The May 16 UDRC meeting, 3:00 – 4:30 at the Sunriver Library will feature arborist Chris Mathews who will give a presentation on tree care. Local fuels reduction contractors have been invited.