Modernizing an aging irrigation system
Ochoco Irrigation District (OID) has been working for the past several years to find ways to improve the efficiency and water delivery within its system.
District Manager Bruce Scanlon points out that certain upgrades could help them conserve water and provide it to more customers in the future. But the changes come at a cost. Consequently, the district is seeking grant funding to pay for the bulk of the project costs.
"What we are doing is a continuation of stuff that has been set in motion for years," Scanlon said. "The district, even under (manager) Mike (Kasberger), previously did a system optimization review that was funded through the Bureau of Reclamation."
Kasberger served as the district manager from 2008 to 2015.
"Then the district, a few years ago, did a system improvement plan," Scanlon added, explaining that the district contracted with an engineering firm and looked at ways to improve some of the efficiencies and delivery of water to different places.
"That set in motion the ability to do what we call the watershed plan and irrigation modernization," he said. "If we were to improve the efficiencies of the system, then we could decrease the amount of water loss that we have on the end of our system."A significant catalyst for the potential improvements is the re-establishment of Public Law 566 by Sen. Jeff Merkley, with the help of many other local leaders, Scanlon said. He explained that the law gives access through Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to federal dollars that can be used by local entities in a 75/25 match.
"We are entering into the process of applying for PL 566 dollars," Scanlon said, adding that districts such as OID can apply for up to $25 million. "We have begun developing, with FCA (Farmers Conservation Alliance), this watershed plan and irrigation modernization plan with the hope of gaining access to $25 million worth of federal funds to modernize the system."
Upgrades would include the installation of new pump plants, which the district uses to carry water to many of its customers, and piping portions of the irrigation system. In addition, the dollars would fund the McKay Switch project.
Roots of the McKay Switch can be traced back to passage of the Crooked River Water Security and Jobs Act in 2014. Part of that federal legislation provided water in Prineville Reservoir for about 650 irrigated acres on McKay Creek.
OID currently serves customers along McKay Creek to a point about 5 miles north of Prineville, after which residents utilize the creek for their irrigation needs.
"Working with the Deschutes River Conservancy, we have identified the ability to take these individuals off of the creek and pump through a 6-mile pipeline to deliver Prineville Reservoir water to them, get them out of the creek and restore 11-12 cfs (cubic feet per second) of water annually," Scanlon said.
He noted that the McKay Switch is currently in "the 90 percent design phase," but that OID currently lacks the system improvements to be able to get the additional 15-20 cfs of water that is needed to pump to that part of the system.
"The PL 566 dollars can be used to improve the system and provide upgrades and replace our aging infrastructure," he said. "We have instances within the district where we need to lift water frequently... Most of the pump plants were installed with the Crooked River project back in the '60s. They are really the heart of the system – we have some aged parts in our system that are very hard to use and maintain."
Scanlon noted that it is difficult, if not impossible, to find replacement parts for the pumps and everything that fails has to be custom built. In addition, few people remain who know how to fix the pumps.
The district also plans to pipe certain portions of the OID system, although at this time, they are still conducting studies throughout much of the system to determine which areas to target.
"We are only talking about high priority areas where we get the most bang for our buck," he remarked.
Scanlon added that OID will be piping portions of the irrigation canal in Prineville as part of a City of Prineville Rails to Trails project. The city is planning to pave a portion of the railway easement and as part of that project, the district will be piping its canal between Northeast Juniper Street and North Main Street. Money for that piping project will come from a completely different funding stream.
When it comes to finding matching funds for the PL 566 funding, OID is in pretty good shape, Scanlon said.
"What is neat about the scenario we are looking at right now is the McKay Switch is funded through DRC (Deschutes River Conservancy), through state dollars, through some PGE (Portland General Electric) dollars, and through some other grants and monies that have been gathered to implement that project," he said. "All of those dollars can be used as match for the match of the PL 566 dollars. The way that the initial project is set up, we would be able to fund about $20 million worth of improvements and infrastructure through grants alone that would not be on the backs of our patrons."
As plans move forward on the watershed plan and irrigation modernization plan, the public will get a chance to learn about what is planned and provide its input. A scoping meeting will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 18 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Carey Foster Hall.
"The meeting is the first opportunity for the public to be able to put their eyes on the context of the plan," Scanlon said. "We will take comments from individuals who have an interest in what we are trying to do. What are their priorities? What are their concerns? Then, you go back into a year-long watershed development plan."
Once that year-long process concludes and the plan is finalized, OID will again take public comment. After the plan is finalized, the district can go to NRCS and apply for the PL 566 funds.
Barring unforeseen complications, Scanlon expects completion of the watershed development plan, which features irrigation modernization plans, to be completed by spring of 2021. He hopes that will enable OID to break ground on projects by that summer.
Ochoco Irrigation District will host its public scoping meeting for irrigation modernization on Sept. 18, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Carey Foster Hall. The meeting is open to the public.
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