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Irrigation district launches economic study to demonstrate need for pumping station

COURTESY SETH MCGLOUGHLIN - With the drought and required water releases for aquatic habitat, the 75 year old Wickiup Reservoir no longer provide enough water for farmers in Jefferson County.

With the drought and environmental releases draining the Wickiup Reservoir, North Unit Irrigation District needs an additional source of water for Jefferson County Farmers. The district wants to build a pumping station at Lake Billy Chinook, but to do that, they need $400 million.

To get $400 million they need to apply for federal grants. For federal grants they need an economic study demonstrating the importance of water in agriculture and the economic importance of agriculture in Jefferson County. "For whatever reason, this information is not accessible," said Mike Britton, NUID executive manager.

When he managed irrigation districts in California, Britton said that information was at his fingertips. Now the district needs to hire economists to pull those numbers together. That's going to cost $200,000. Last December, Oregon legislators designated $17.1 million in drought relief for Jefferson County. Of that money, $1 million was earmarked for drought resiliency. Britton says the Oregon Water Enhancement Board hasn't yet decided how to distribute that money. "We can't wait for the state to decide when and how that money will come," Britton told Jefferson County Commissioners.

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - Jefferson County Commissioners loaned $200,000 to the North Unit Irrigation District to pay for an economic study that will help the district convince grant administrators to help pay for a pumping station at Lake Billy Chinook.
Commissioners authorized the loan with the assurance NUID would pay the money back once OWEB released the drought relief funds. A pumping station would supplement the water farmers already draw from Wickiup. "It can provide a sustainable, reliable source of water that can provide more certainty to our water users," said Britton. Drawing water from Lake Billy Chinook satisfies environmental interests because it allows more water to stay instream for aquatic habitat until the water gets to the lake. A pumping station at the lake eliminates the need for a pumping station in Crooked River.

PMG PHOTO JENNIFFER GRANT - A pumping station on Lake Billy Chinook could provide a reliable water source for the North Unit Irrigation District into the future. However, one would come with a big cost, an estimated $400 million, with annual operating costs at $5-10 million, more than the current $4.6-million annual NUID budget., Madras Pioneer - News Irrigators barreling ahead to find funding for a $400-million pumping station  Farmers look to Lake Billy Chinook for water  The Bureau of Reclamation built the Wickiup Reservoir in the 1940s for $8 million, more than $150 million in today's dollars. NUID farmers are still paying for Wickiup and its improvements.

The approximate price tag for the Lake Billy Chinook pumping station comes to $400 million, with annual operating costs of $5-6 million, more than the current NUID annual budget. The NUID estimates farmers will benefit $4-6 million a year from the increased supply and improved crop yields.

The district needs economists to verify their estimates and convince the people who administer federal grants that a Lake Billy Chinook pumping station deserves their investment.

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