Battle over Bend canal continues

Irrigation district says canal piping project is about conservation; neighbors disagree

By Elon Glucklich / The Bulletin

A nearly yearlong, heated dispute continued Thursday between the Central Oregon Irrigation District and several dozen property owners just northeast of Bend city limits over the fate of an irrigation canal that winds through their backyards.

The irrigation district wants to replace about 4,500 feet of the Pilot Butte Canal with a closed pipe. But neighbors say removing the century-old canal would gut their property values and give COID a green light to take out other canals across the county.

A resolution in the case is still months away.

During a hearing Thursday with Deschutes County planning commissioners, irrigation district officials said the Pilot Butte Canal has for years lost water due to leakage, resulting in less water for farmers east of Bend.

The proposed piping area would start between Northeast 18th Street and Old Deschutes Road and go downstream to meet a section of canal the district piped off more than 10 years ago, between Bend and Redmond.

The Pilot Butte Canal “loses the most water per mile of any stretch of our canal system,” irrigation district manager Steve Johnson told planning commissioners Thursday.

The homeowners don’t want to see the canal go. About 80 people showed up to a public hearing two weeks ago, and most were back Thursday, saying Johnson and other officials have tried to intimidate them into accepting the plan.

Some of them argued Thursday the irrigation district’s canal piping plan isn’t about conserving water for farmers, but about adding power to its hydroelectric plant that operates along the canal.

Jeff Perreault, a retired hydrologist who lives in the proposed canal piping area, argued Thursday that water seeping from the canals into the soil isn’t lost. It’s instead absorbed into an underground reservoir called an aquifer, which keeps it in the Upper Deschutes Basin.

“This canal is not too leaky,” Perreault said. The water “is not wasted, it’s not lost. It goes essentially undiminished, straight to the aquifer.”

Planning commissioners seemed unsure what to make of the arguments. Thursday’s public hearing was the third they’ve had on the issue this year.

They don’t have the final say. The planning commission is supposed to make a formal recommendation to Deschutes County commissioners, who will make a ruling after another public hearing.

A recommendation by planning commissioners isn’t expected until May.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, eglucklich@bendbulletin.com