Irrigation district piping plan hits roadblock

Deschutes planning board sides against proposed change to county code

By Elon Glucklich / The Bulletin / @EGlucklich

Published May 10, 2014 at 12:01AM

A Deschutes County planning board late Thursday voted against a Central Oregon Irrigation District proposal that would let the district bypass a long permitting process and convert open canal to closed pipe in a northeast Bend neighborhood.

The vote wasn’t binding, but is likely a roadblock in the irrigation district’s plan to pipe nearly a mile of the Pilot Butte Canal. It’s also a victory for dozens of homeowners who have rallied against the plan at public hearings, though Deschutes County commissioners still have to make a final ruling.

The county’s seven-member planning commission said the district couldn’t meet the criteria to change the county’s code in low-density, residential areas.

The district wants to pipe 4,500 feet of the Pilot Butte Canal, just beyond Bend’s city limits. The stretch of the canal starts between Northeast 18th Street and Old Deschutes Road, and goes upstream to meet a section the district piped off nearly a decade ago.

In December, the district proposed adding “Operation, maintenance and piping of existing irrigation systems operated by an irrigation district” as an acceptable use in these areas. The change to Deschutes County code would let the district pipe the canal without a conditional use permit. Irrigation officials have argued this stretch of the canal is one of the leakiest in the district’s 700-mile network.

But the canal, which is more than 100 years old, winds through several dozen homeowners’ properties. They’ve testified at three public hearings that replacing it with a closed pipe would devastate their property values and their quality of life. Others argued the district’s piping plan was really about adding power to a hydroelectric plant it runs on the canal.

At Thursday’s meeting, planning commissioners said both sides made compelling points. But the clearest argument they could find from more than 3,000 pages of irrigation district and homeowner testimony came from the City of Bend Area General Plan, which includes canals as open spaces that “add to the quality of life” for residents.

Even that wasn’t completely clear, planning commission chairman Christen Brown said Thursday. But he said the district’s broad network of canals seemed to give them plenty of alternatives to stop leakage or add hydropower.

“I feel they couldn’t have picked a worse candidate,” Brown said. “There are other opportunities out there, and I’d prefer Central Oregon Irrigation picked another battleground for this.”

The planning commission’s vote was unanimous, but the process isn’t over and nothing is assured yet.

“The matter will be readdressed before the board of county commissioners,” Larry Roofener, operations manager for the irrigation district, said Friday. “And so of course the Central Oregon Irrigation District looks forward to that. We’ll continue the process.”

A date for that hearing hasn’t been set, county officials said.

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