Arnold Irrigation District frames water seepage from their main canal as waste or loss. A well would prefer to call this seepage infiltration to groundwater. The water that passes into the ground through the main canal’s porous bottom and sides recharges the aquifers below–it isn’t lost. In fact, it eventually makes it back to the middle Deschutes, but hydrologists say that this underground trip takes anywhere from 70-300 years.
AID’s draft Environmental Assessement copied and pasted together by Farmers Conservation Alliance from a variety of Districts EA’s already created, looks at the loss of groundwater recharge due to piping the AID main canal as negligible and not a danger to wells because it looks at this amount of local recharge within the broad scope of the entire Deschutes basin. The reality is that over 500 wells exist within 1-mile of the main canal and most of them are shallow, meaning more directly dependent upon ongoing recharge from seasonal canal seepage.
When open canals get piped, surrounding wells are negatively affected. Most don’t fail immediately–they get by waiting for another seasonal recharge each winter, so they keep going for a while. But they fail. Some wells are new enough to meet current code and be re-drilled deeper. Others start from scratch with application for and drilling of a new well. The current cost of well drilling is $40/foot. Average well depth beneath canal recharge zones in Bend is 500-feet. The cost of pumps and electrical and hook-up typically costs another $10-20,000.
Doesn’t something have to be done about this old canal’s seepage problem? Yes, it’s too much, and there are important reasons to keep more of that water in the Deschutes and Wickiup reservoir (like protecting threatened species critical habitat and helping food-producing farmers in Madras, for example). But, it doesn’t have to be eradicated completely with a pipeline. A variety of different canal lining methods could stop seepage by 70%, providing a massive amount of water savings but also minimizing negative impacts to wells.
For more detailed information specific to wells and groundwater, look at the Pape documents available for download on our Documents page. This wells-related data was compiled by hydrologists hired to research this specific, local issue as a way to push back on FCA’s cookie-cutter, cut-and-paste science found in the draft Environmental Assessment. It’s worth a look.