Senator Merkley Tours Pilot Butte Canal

BEND, OR — Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) was in Bend, Monday, touring a section of the Pilot Butte Canal slated for piping, next year. “That greatly reduces the losses of the water percolating down through the ground and also reduces losses from evaporation,” he said at the event. “The key is that the saved water can then be used to reduce water set aside for the next irrigation season, which means that more water can come down the stream during the winter.”

He noted the importance of ensuring water is available for farmers and ranchers in the future, but also for fish and wildlife and the outdoor industry. “During irrigation season, we fill the Upper Deschutes River; water flows down to the agricultural purposes. But, when the irrigation season winds down, we reduce flows in the Upper Deschutes to store water for the next irrigation season, meaning you can have very low flows over the winter; and that can have a significant impact on local fish and wildlife populations. The good news is we can help address this through smart water conservation.”

Merkley tells KBND News he has three proposals working through Congress that will help future similar projects. “Two of them are grant programs, one is a subsidized loan program. Each one is a little bit different, but enabling them to have more funding and a priority given to efforts where there’s a collaborative project and where you’re addressing either water efficiency or issues involving endangered species.” He says priorities would be given to projects designed through a collaborative process between irrigation districts, conservation and agricultural stakeholders.

The Senator says projects would remain under local control. “My part in this, at the federal level, is to say when the irrigation district has a project, it’s worked it out and it’s going to have very positive water conservation and environmental impacts – of course, we have a very big issue of the dewatering of the Upper Deschutes – and I’m going to do everything I can to help resources get here.”

Central Oregon Irrigation District officials say they’ve nearly secured the $3.9-million needed to pipe a section of canal near Brookswood Boulevard. Installation of the 4,000-foot pipe is expected to begin in a year.