We’d like to present a bit of a recap of the recent milestones in the administrative process of the proposed Arnold Irrigation District Infrastructure Modernization project and provide some pertinent information about what our opposition effort has planned going forward.
We, like most of you, were made aware of the District’s plan to pipe 13-miles of the main canal over two years ago and attended the first public meeting at Elk Meadow Elementary school where we were introduced to AID’s environmental consultant Farmers Conservation Alliance (FCA) and treated to their lip service and question-dodging skills for the first time. We, like many of you, submitted our public comments to the Preliminary Investigative Report on the proposed plan and then heard nothing more about it for two years until AID’s draft Environmental Proposal was published on June 8, 2021.
Upon reading the draft EA a few important concerns became apparent and remain so: 1-our public comments had been largely dismissed; 2-costs to property owners caused by the pipe project (reduced property values, loss of trees & vegetation, impacts to wells and impacts to wildlife) were ignored; 3-other viable alternatives to piping were summarily dismissed or were simply not explored; 4-the plan’s treatment of the flume portion of the canal offends the legal protections of the federal Wild and Scenic River Act and Oregon Scenic Waterway Act.
On June 23, many of us attended a public comment Zoom meeting hosted by AID and FCA to address questions and discuss concerns of the proposed pipeline. The results were in line with previous interactions with AID and FCA in that their answers were vague or misleading. It was clear that while not guaranteed to make a difference, our submittal of as many public comments of opposition as possible would be our next best step in opposing this plan. A few of us requested and received an extension to the public comment period, which pushed it out to July 23, 2021.
As a testament to all your efforts in this public comment outreach endeavor, follow-up with the FCA and the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), who oversees this administrative process and controls the federal purse strings for the proposed project, has revealed that over 400 public comments were received. Gary Diridoni of the NRCS said that while it usually takes two to three months to analyze public comments for a draft EA, he estimated that the analysis phase for this EA “…Could take three to six months because we’ve never had this many public comments before.” Good work everyone.
We are now in the interim period between public comment and a decision that will be made by NRCS about how the project will move forward or not. The likely possible decisions that could be rendered are: 1-AID and FCA are directed to revise the draft EA and re-submit it for another round of public comment (the revisions could include changes to the flume plan and/or exploration of alternatives other than piping); 2-AID and FCA are directed to produce an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is essentially an EA on steroids that must take a deeper dive into the concerns specified in our public comments (this process could take up to 4-years according to NRCS); 3-NRCS issues a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which green-lights the project as defined in the EA for commencement into further design and implementation.
Decisions 1 or 2, above, would be “wins” for our opposition movement as they force some degree of change to the plan as it stands now, and might open the door for collaborative solutions that help solve the challenges of maintaining water levels in the upper Deschutes for threatened and endangered species habitat and ensuring farmers have water for crops–without the extreme costs of piping.
Decision 3, above, would be a failure of our efforts to change the trajectory of the current proposal, but this final judgement on the part of the NRCS would also serve as the procedural trigger for any lawsuits to be filed against NRCS initially and subsequently filed against AID. There is no opportunity for legal action against these entities until a decision of FONSI is made.
Our group, Save Arnold Canal, has been meeting regularly and working in partnership with the Papé family team to promote thoughtful media coverage of the issue and explore our options for possible collaboration with the AID board of directors to enable a change in tack. The family, who own several parcels that touch the main canal totaling roughly 200 acres, have been involved in this issue for two years, and their concerns about this flawed plan are the same as all of ours.
Save Arnold Canal is currently evolving into a legally formed nonprofit organization and is working toward transferring the legal representation of Brian Sheets (BRS Legal, Ontario, OR https://brs.legal/) from individuals in the group to representation of the whole Save Arnold Canal group. He has been involved since late June and has represented clients in a similar situation to preserve the Pilot Butte Canal in the Central Oregon Irrigation District where they were successful in stopping piping. We are preparing for litigation in the case of a FONSI decision.
We will have details soon for how those of you who will be directly impacted by this proposed piping project and who oppose it can get involved as a supporter of this action. What has been shown to be important in cases like these are large numbers of individuals who are invested in the process, rather than folks who may be opposed but remain sitting on the sidelines. Our goal will be to make registration for support of Save Arnold Canal’s mission and legal representation low-cost and simple so that we can create as much impact in our favor as possible.
In the meantime, we are focused on educating as many of our friends and associates about this complex issue as possible. A few of the important things to know are:
—Water that seeps into the groundwater from the canal sustains an ecosystem and wells (over 500)…it’s not all bad
—There are less costly ways than piping to reduce seepage to protect Deschutes habitat and help farmers
—This plan will not ensure better drought resistance for irrigators in Arnold Irrigation District nor improve their water delivery over what they have now
If you’re interested to learn more about the proposed project and what should be done instead of piping the Arnold Irrigation District main canal, check out the website www.savearnoldcanal.org and feel free to send any questions or comments to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The founding members of Save Arnold Canal
Bill Calder, Rhonda Coleman & Ralph Emerson, Liz & Mark Elling, Carol Guptail, Alan Keyes, Geoff Reynolds, Deb & Jerry Rudloff, Ruby Swanson, Rosalina Wong