After talk of major delays last week, a project that would replace a section of canal near the southern edge of Bend with a 3,000-foot irrigation pipeline is back on track to begin around the end of the year.

Craig Horrell, general manager of Central Oregon Irrigation District, said a $5 million piping project is expected to break ground in December or January, pending the results of a federal environmental analysis. The announcement updates and clarifies prior statements from the district and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, stating that the environmental process could delay the project by up to a year.

“We’re trying to accommodate their timeline,” said Edna Rey-Vizgirdas, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The irrigation district’s project is part of a larger effort to replace open canals with closed pipes, a move that the district claims could save around 5 cubic feet per second — and up to 50 percent of the water during peak irrigation season — which would otherwise be lost to evaporation or seepage.

Horrell said this project, which would pipe 3,000 feet of canal to the west of Brookswood Bridge, behind 25 houses along Rock Bluff Lane, is currently in its final planning stages. The piping project’s $5 million price tag includes $1.4 million in grant funding from the Bureau of Reclamation, meaning that the project is subject to a federal environmental analysis, in conjunction with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970.

Rey-Vizgirdas said the project requires an environmental assessment, a federal document showing the impact to the environment and to significant historic or cultural landmarks. If the proposal is found to have a significant impact on species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, it could trigger a longer evaluation process that could take up to a year, which would push the project back, according to Rey-Vizgirdas.

Still, Rey-Vizgirdas and Horrell both expressed confidence that this project will not require the longer environmental process. On Nov. 9, the district met with representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation to make sure the district’s timeline would correspond with the federal agency’s, according to ShanRae Hawkins, spokeswoman for the district.

Hawkins said the piping needs to be completed by the end of March, in order to be ready for the start of irrigation season in April.

“It’s a hectic process,” Horrell added.

Once the pipes are installed, they will be buried and a trail system will be restored and managed by the Bend Park & Recreation District. Michelle Healy, director of planning and park services for the district, said the irrigation district and the park district have worked together on similar projects in the past. While Healy did not provide a timeline, she said no trail work will begin until the piping is complete.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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