Federal, state funding benefit multiple Crook County water projects

Money from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and OWRD funding three projects

Central Oregonian

Multiple Crook County projects will benefit from significant funding boosts in the near future according to a recent announcement from state and federal officials.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) recently announced more than $4 million of funding would be allocated to two local projects as part of federal investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Two phases of the Deschutes Land Trust’s Ochoco Preserve restoration project will receive $3 million. The Ochoco Preserve, located on 185 acres of former farmland near Prineville, was purchased in 2017 by Deschutes Land Trust with the intent of protecting and restoring fish and wildlife habitat on the Lower McKay and Lower Ochoco creeks and the Crooked River.

According to Jason Grant, a restoration specialist with the land trust, Phase 2 will include work on Ochoco Creek and half of the Crooked River portion of the project. Work on the creek will include a new baseload channel and associated floodplain, side channels and wetlands.

“We are going to move the Crooked River channel out of its current alignment, put some more meander bends in it, create some more wetland habitat and really open up the floodplains on Ochoco Preserve,” Grant said. “Phase 2 is the largest project out of the three phases proposed.”

That effort will benefit from a $400,000 grant awarded by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, through the National Fish Passage Program.

Work on Phase 2 is expected to extend in 2024, leaving the third and final phase of the project for 2025 and beyond. That phase will focus on the remainder of the Crooked River as well as the proposed trails and footbridges.

“The public access and community benefit are just as important as the restoration,” Grant stressed. “They are just going to come later … We can’t build the trails or put the footbridges in until we do the restoration and move the dirt around.”

But once the restoration and public access work is complete, Deschutes Land Trust personnel hope people will visit and enjoy the Ochoco Preserve.

“It’s an exciting project,” Grant said. “We really want people to enjoy the property once it is done and hopefully, it gets a lot of use and people enjoy interacting with the river.”

Another $1.4 million will go to Crooked River Watershed Council for its Lower Crooked River Riparian, Floodplain and Habitat Restoration Project.

According to Wyden and Merkley, hydrology in the Crooked River watershed is impacted by upstream dams, including the Bureau of Reclamation’s Bowman Dam, leading to loss of floodplain continuity, degraded channel structures and water quality impairments, impacting native Spring Chinook Salmon and Columbia River Steelhead populations that inhabit the watershed. The Crooked River Watershed Council, working in partnership with the Ochoco Irrigation District, will restore habitat and enhance ecological features on two project sites just downstream from the city of Prineville.

“These significant federal resources will help two standout Central Oregon organizations accomplish their crucial goals of conserving water and protecting habitat,” Wyden said of the investments. “That adds up to good news for Oregonians in the region who deserve both a dependable water supply and protection of the gifts from nature that make our state such a special place.”

In addition to the federal funds, the Deschutes River Conservancy recently announced the allocation of grant funding from the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) for four pivotal water conservation projects in Central Oregon, including the McKay Creek Water Rights Switch Project in Prineville. A total of $4.063 million will be used in partnership by the Deschutes River Conservancy and Ochoco Irrigation District on a project that restores 11.2 cubic feet per second of streamflow to McKay Creek, supporting the reintroduction of steelhead into the Crooked River sub-basin.

The project includes construction of a pipeline and pump station to deliver stored water from Prineville Reservoir through Ochoco Irrigation District in exchange for transferring in-stream privately held water rights in McKay Creek.

Farmers currently using the creek for irrigation will gain access to more reliable water from Ochoco Irrigation District, and the stream will see more consistent flows in the spring and summer months, restoring McKay to a more natural state.