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Piping projects will help district keep up with spotted frog protection requirements.

DESIREE BERGSTROM/MADRAS PIONEER - Piping open ditches within the North Unit Irrigation District will provide pressurized water and other benefits to NUID patrons.North Unit Irrigation District is in the beginning stages of planning a $30-35 million piping project on the south end of the district in order to keep up with requirements to protect the Oregon spotted frog and provide benefits to its patrons.

There are a couple thousand pages that go along with the habitat conservation plan for the spotted frog that have to be reviewed, and the draft is currently in a public comment period. When the period close, fish and wildlife agencies will take those comments and decide whether they need to be addressed or not in the final plan, said Mike Britton, NUID manager.

"It's hard to say where we are going to land at the end of the day," he said, adding that the district is 11 years into the process and in the final stretch.

The district's proposal, submitted as a piece of the large and complicated project, is to release more water for the frog over time using incremental increases over a 30-year period.

In order to keep up with the increases, though, the district has to put infrastructure in place to conserve water and have the extra water to release.

"That is really what the basis of all of this is on is being able to put pipe in the ground, or other conservation measures," said Britton. "Piping and on-farm efficiency is really where we will see the biggest bang for our buck."

The small incremental increases of releasing water over that period is the only way that Britton sees the district meeting the requirements because the infrastructure can only get put in place so fast to meet them.

Why the south end?

At a scoping meeting for the project on Oct. 21, a general map for the proposed project, in the areas of Culver and out toward McPheeter's Turf, was passed around, and Britton said part of the reason for choosing that area was simply because of gravity.

"If we pipe a section of canal that has fall or gravity flow to it, then that provides pressurized water to the patron," he said. That's another benefit of piping projects.

The area in the south end of the district offers a good opportunity for gravity flow, and there is more seepage loss in that region, Britton said.

When it comes down to it, he said, "there are so many opportunities in the district, it is just which ones are the least complicated that provide the most benefit."

The project is in the early stages, and the district isn't sure yet how many miles of pipe it will be putting in the ground. But that is the next step with the watershed plan for the project – identify which laterals to pipe, calculating the savings and costs associated and other factors.

"Right now it's a general idea of where we want to put pipe in the ground," Britton said.

The benefits

"It's expensive but there's a great benefit for (piping projects) if you can get it done," he said. "When people talk about a piping project, the first thing they think is it's saving water, but there is multiple benefits to doing it."

For one thing, the projects provide pressurized water to patrons, which means they don't have to run pumps 24/7 to get water onto the fields. It ends up being a huge energy saver and much more cost effective for the water user.

As for the district, piping lowers operations and maintenance costs because it doesn't have to maintain open ditches. Piping also means less transmission loss from seepage and evaporation.

"We are also looking at, as a part of this process, at putting in retention ponds or reuse ponds at the end of a lateral. Instead of spilling into the Crooked or Deschutes river, we will be able to capture that water, and hopefully there is a farmer or somebody near by that can reuse that water," Britton said.

"It's a small amount of water, but there is water quality concerns out there and this is just an effort to save the water, reuse the water and address water quality at the same time," he said. "There is a lot of sediment that gets carried in our water, especially in a thunderstorm event or something like that. A lot of the flood irrigation, which we don't have a lot of, still can carry sediment. If farmers are using pesticides in their operation, it ends up in the water," he said.

If that water ends up in the river, it carries all those things with it, and the water quality of the river it affected.

The retention ponds would keep that from happening.

Enough water to go around

Another piece of the puzzle when looking at NUID's projects and ultimate goal of keeping up with requirements for the spotted frog is coming up with ways of finding water at the right time of the year for the frog and patrons.

In order to address some of this, the district is partnering with another irrigation district.

"As the requirements for meeting the demands for the Oregon spotted frog increase, we are going to have to find additional water for the district," Britton said.

"North Unit has partnered with Central Oregon Irrigation District, whereby if Central Oregon Irrigation District does a project that conserves water, we have the opportunity to get that water from COID, but in exchange we have to release winter water for their summer live flow water," he said.

"For example, if COID does a project that saves 10 (cubic feet per second), we'll release 10 cfs of water out of Wickiup during the winter when we should be storing. In exchange, we will get 10 cfs of live flow from Central Oregon Irrigation District," he said. "We're not really using water. We are just exchanging it for a different time in which the water is used."

"As time goes on, we will be required to increase flows over a 30-year period" as part of the habitat conservation plan, Britton said. "In order to make up those increased flows, we need to do projects with people that we can exchange the water with so we are not losing water in the process.

"It's complex, it is complicated, it's expensive, but at the end of the day that is the strategy we have in place now," he said.

Paying for piping

Money from projects like this doesn't all come out of pocket for the district. Much of it is from grants, federal or state programs.

"Typically grants have matching, where if you get a $50,000 grant, you have to provide $50,000 match. We do that through 'in kind,' which is our labor, manpower, equipment, administrative time," Britton said.

"We have the staff and the equipment that we can actually excavate the pipelines, weld the pipe together, install the pipe and cover it up. So that is a huge 'in kind' benefit that we take advantage of. So we are not having to come up with cash out of pocket," he said.

Funding for this specific project is a 75-25 % cost share, so if the federal government is putting up 75%, then the district has to find 25% that doesn't come from federal sources.

"In this case we were able to go to Salem this past legislative session and get $10 million to apply towards these projects," Britton said.

"That's a pretty good chunk of change, and ideally the districts wouldn't have to come up with much 'in kind,' but there will be some. They always like to see the districts have skin in the game versus just collecting money from the state and the feds and doing projects," he said.

This project's estimated cost is around $35 million. "Between 30 and 35 million," he said. "Lots more pipe, larger area, and that is because the funding is available and you can do it in $25 million chunks, but then when you add your match to it bumps it up."

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