Ochoco Irrigation District in Crook County receives project dollars from feds

Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden recently announced the Ochoco Irrigation District, Tumalo, Owyhee and East Fork projects will be receiving federal funding to help drought-stricken communities make the most of limited water supplies.

The senators pointed out that the projects — funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations bill, both of which Merkley and Wyden supported — will combine strategies supporting efficient irrigation methods with better resource management to ensure consistent water flow to support agriculture, protect and restore wildlife habitat, and improve water quantity and quality.

The Ochoco Irrigation District project will install a total of 16.8 miles of buried pipeline, which will replace the open, unlined canals and laterals of Grimes Flat and the IronHorse section of the Crooked River Distribution Canal.

The local project will also install a new pipeline to deliver irrigation water to the upper McKay Creek lands associated with the McKay Creek Water Rights Switch. Related improvements include replacing aging pump stations and raising canal banks to deepen channels. The project will improve irrigation water management and delivery, reduce district operations and maintenance costs, improve public safety along piped sections, and increase streamflow in McKay Creek and the Crooked River.

“Across rural Oregon, everyone feels the stress of dwindling water supplies caused by grinding drought, which is why we need smart solutions to make sure we’re using water as efficiently as possible,” said Merkley. “These important projects will help conserve water, improve irrigation conditions for rural Oregon farmers and ensure critical habitats for trout and salmon are protected.”

Wyden added that he has heard from rural communities around Oregon about “their desperate need of resources to respond to the high levels of drought that are hurting agriculture and conservation efforts.” “I am gratified to see these important investments in water conservation work for the Owyhee, Tumalo East Fork and Ochoco districts go toward increasing efficiency, improving biodiversity and helping farmers and ranchers better plan and prepare for droughts,” he said.

These upcoming modernization projects are expected to establish climate resilient solutions to offset the impact of drought throughout the regions of Deschutes River, Tumalo Creek, Snake River and Hood River watersheds. Existing open irrigation canals will be converted to pipes, which will help conserve and preserve water where it is needed to restore habitats for specified trout and salmon species. The implementation of water pipe conveyance are expected to reduce evaporation and seepage loss, divert less water from rivers and increases flow downstream.