The $2.2 million phase 1 of the project to replace miles of open-ditch irrigation canals with pipelines on the North Unit Irrigation District system is under way.
This large project is a group effort, with the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District and North Unit Irrigation District playing lead roles.
On Oct. 2, representatives from the project's entities and several landowners toured the now-completed Lateral 58-9 Piping project. They also viewed area where this next project will take place, along the 58-11 lateral.
Work on the first phase of the 58-11 project is scheduled to start this winter.
Located on the north end of Jefferson County's irrigation district, the 58-11 canal loses approximately 40 percent of the water diverted into it for irrigation. The canal was dug 75 years ago through the volcanic soils the county is known for, and water loss is due to percolation, evaporation, and operational spill water at the end of the ditch.
The spill into Mud Springs Creek carries sediment, nutrients and E. coli into Trout Creek. The E. coli was identified in water quality monitoring by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District. The pipeline will mitigate those factors, leading to cleaner water in the creek.
"This project has already shown water quality improvement in the watershed" with the 58-9 piping, said Jan Roofener, director of the JCSWCD.
In total, the project will entail five miles of canal converted to pipe, over three phases. It will include 1,800 acres of farmed agriculture land and conserve an estimated 3.7 cubic feet per second of water from ditch seepage and operational spill. It is projected to be completed in 2016.
Phase I, which will see two miles of canal converted to pipe, has the potential to conserve 1.89 cfs of water, utilizing the conserved water statute as part of NUID Water Supply Initiative.
In part, the conserved water program is intended to promote water conservation and enhance stream flows. The project also treats Trout Creek for erosion by eliminating operational spill water and farm runoff -- a goal identified in the Mid-Columbia Steelhead Recovery Plan.
Tom Bennett, the district resource conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, praised the project.
"The improved water use efficiency from the proposed pipeline, and on-farm efficiencies gained through conservation planning and eventual implementation of on-farm system improvements, will fit well within what our partnership is trying to do. This project has the potential to conserve energy as well as water," said Bennett.
Mike Britton, executive director of North Unit, said, "This is a great example of multiple agencies and organizations coming together to meet mutual needs. As a result of this project, and future phases, agricultural viability and sustainability will be improved to insure the legacy of agriculture in our region for future generations."
The local irrigation district and landowners have been key in water conservation effort. While the district is beginning to pipe water to the farms for delivery, many landowners have been converting to pivot irrigation and buried on-farm water delivery to improve irrigation efficiency.
In 2007, North Unit, through an act of Congress, amended their contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, allowing the district to participate in conserved water projects. The contract amendment has opened the doors to allow the district to pursue these types of beneficial projects through collaboration with willing partners.
In abiding by the Oregon Administrative Rules, the water conserved through this project will be transferred to irrigated lands within NUID and a corresponding volume of Crooked River water will be transferred in stream. NUID currently irrigates these lands with water pumped from the Crooked River, a tributary to the Deschutes River.
In return for being provided new gravity flow water from the Deschutes River, NUID will place in stream a corresponding volume of their Crooked River water to help satisfy instream flow needs in the lower Crooked River.
This arrangement will provide cost relief to NUID, which currently has to pay to pump water from the lower Crooked River by providing them with new water rights that are delivered by gravity from the Deschutes River.
Phase I has received funding for the piping project from the Bureau of Reclamation, North Unit Irrigation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and PGE.
Jefferson County SWCD has applied to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board for additional funding to complete the first phase.
Ellen Hammond, the regional water quality specialist for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, summed it up like this: "The department applauds the North Unit Irrigation District, the Jefferson County SWCD, landowners and all other partners for working together on this complex and beneficial project."