Editorial: Irrigation districts should be able to pipe

For now, there may be enough water to go around in Central Oregon. But that doesn’t stop the fights about water.

One has landed before the Deschutes County Commission.

There are only two small areas in the county where irrigation districts can’t pipe canals without going through a land use process. And in one of those spots, Central Oregon Irrigation District wants to pipe its canal.

COID has asked the county for a change in language to allow the piping without that extended process.

The commissioners should approve the change.

The canal in question cuts right though a neighborhood near Juniper Ridge, behind people’s homes.

As you might expect, for many of them, losing the canal is a bad thing. They don’t want the language change. They don’t want the canal to change.

During water runs, having the canal is like having a stream in your backyard. It’s hard to give that up.

If COID gets permission to pipe the section, it has the authority to just lay the pipe into the canal. If it wanted to put the canal underground, it would have to get permission from property owners.

So property owners could effectively lose a de facto stream and gain a pipe sticking out of the ground. It’s no wonder many of them have let commissioners know they don’t want it to happen.

It is important to note that if the county does not approve the language change, COID could still get permission to pipe its canal there. It would, though, take longer.

We don’t expect the residents to change their minds. But we do believe piping canals is better for the county and the watershed.

COID wants to pipe for several reasons. An open canal becomes a playground. That can be dangerous. Children have drowned in open canals.

COID also wants to pipe because it saves water and helps its hydro facility nearby. It spent $27.5 million piping and building a hydro facility through Juniper Ridge. Piping that 2 1⁄2 miles conserved about 19.6 cubic feet per second of water previously lost through seepage or evaporation.

That’s quite a bit of water. For comparison, the peak diversion the city of Bend is allowed from its Bridge Creek facility is 18.2 cfs.

Piping the water also builds pressure for the hydro. COID’s plant can generate 3.3 megawatts of power or enough power to serve more than 3,000 homes.

Piping the additional 0.85 miles through the neighborhood would save another 7.95 cfs of water and boost the potential power generation to 5 megawatts to power some 5,000 homes.

Finding ways to save water enables it to be used somewhere else. For instance, some of the water saved through the proposed piping would go to reduce the water North Unit Irrigation District pumps from the Crooked River. Some of the water could stay in the Deschutes River.

There has already been significant input from COID and the neighbors on this matter. A hearing is scheduled for July 2 to allow for further testimony.

The people who live along the canal would undeniably lose something. But the commissioners have a responsibility to make the right decision for the whole county. Irrigation districts should have an outright permitted use to pipe their canals in this neighborhood just as they do in other parts of the county.

If the property owners can work with COID, they will end up with something much nicer than a pipe on the ground, if they give permission for COID to put it underground.