While there is an urgent need to conserve irrigation water to maintain more water in the upper Deschutes for threatened species habitat and help struggling farmers, piping causes a massive amount of collateral damage. Piping completely eliminates seepage that infiltrates into the ground and shallow aquifers. As has already been seen after other piping projects (Swalley and Tumalo Irrigation Districts) have been completed, nearby wells have failed and are having to be re-drilled at owners’ expense. Any trees that have become habituated to the 115-year-old seasonal water source will die after piping–not to mention the thousands that will be cut down to clear the pipeline’s construction area. AID has no idea what habitat and migration changes will be forced on wildlife that use the canal corridor, but simply hoping for the best is not a responsible plan.
There are several alternative solutions to piping that address all of these issues. A variety of canal lining technologies would substantially reduce seepage but allow enough to replenish groundwater to minimize negative impacts to wells, keep trees and vegetation alive and allow wildlife access to water. It would maintain an open canal to allow emergency pumping of water in the case of a wildfire. It would save thousands of trees that help offset greenhouse gasses. It would cost 200 to 400 percent less than piping. This video explains the problems with piping and better solutions that are available.
Simple, common sense solutions like canceling or reducing winter-time stock runs (where the canal is run at full volume for several days to benefit only a few irrigators and the excess is poured out into a field at the end of the canal) would hold back a sizable volume of water for improved Deschutes flows. Delaying the start of the irrigation season past the still night-freeze-prone date of April 15th and shutting down the season sooner than the typical October 15th end of operations could save massive amounts of water when it’s not as needed by irrigators. Exploring the non-structural and policy solutions of water banking, aquifer management and water rights legislation could all yield substantial water savings.
Starting to solve our broader water resource challenges starts with people, not piping. Piping is a politically convenient, knee-jerk reaction that will cost taxpayers over $40 million and do more harm than good. It’s time that Arnold Irrigation District stopped avoiding Deschutes County residents and its own patrons and came to the table to find a collaborative way forward that works for all parties.