Plan now in public comment phase seeks to pipe nine miles of open canal, add pump houses and complete other local projects

JASON CHANEY - Open canals, such as the one near Barnes Butte Elementary, would be piped during the proposed watershed project.

Ochoco Irrigation District is slowly moving forward on a potential large-scale watershed project that would make multiple improvements to its system.

The plan would include piping about nine miles of open canal throughout the district, extending water delivery into another portion of the community while adding pump plants.

"What we are hoping to achieve is reduce our safety risks of having open canals. We want to improve our ability to deliver water reliably and to conserve water," said Bruce Scanlon, the district's manager. He said that improvements would help conserve 5.9 cubic feet per second, the majority of which would be placed in-stream permanently.

OID kicked off plans for the project about a year ago, when they hosted a public scoping meeting.

"We presented an initial draft plan, called a watershed plan," Scanlon explained. "That watershed plan is a necessary step in being able to apply for grant dollars through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service's PL566 fund. To qualify, we have to have a final watershed plan and environmental assessment, and we have to raise matching funds."

Scanlon said the program provides up to $25 million and pays for 75% of a project. OID would have to provide a 25% match. The project under consideration would cost about $30 million.

The watershed plan effort has reached step four of a six-step process, Scanlon said.

"We are opening it up for public comment this month," he said. "The best way to do that is to go to and submit a comment."

Assuming the public comments don't hinder the process, the project would then move into a fifth step of submitting a final plan and then if that is approved by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, OID could implement the plan and move forward on construction.

The watershed project would involve several improvements and additions to the community, which would take place over the course of a few years.

"One of the big components is fulfilling the 2014 Crooked River Act provisions whereby additional lands on McKay Creek were annexed into the district," Scanlon said. "An opportunity was planned for those landowners to essentially switch their natural flow rights to stored water that was reallocated within Prineville Reservoir."

Another component of the project will target OID's northernmost ditch, an area they call the Grimes Flat area. Eight miles of that ditch will be piped, and a new pump plant will get installed.

Another portion of canal slated for piping is expected to open up land on the City of Prineville-owned Barnes Butte Recreation Area. Just north of where Combs Flat Road ends, a portion of canal begins and snakes through the area, returning to pipe just before reaching the east end of Peters Road.

"With the city's plans to develop that area and extend Combs Flat Road and connect it with Peters Road, we are hoping to provide a new piped alignment through that section," Scanlon said.

Given the steps that remain, Scanlon does not expect the watershed project to break ground for at least another year. He estimates that OID won't likely have its final plan completed until after the next water year begins. Consequently, construction couldn't start until that water year concludes in the fall.

Nevertheless, Scanlon is eager to see the project continue moving forward.

"It's a big deal for the irrigation district," he said.

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