Efforts to gain a historic designation for another section of Central Oregon irrigation canal appears to have suffered a fatal blow. That’s the right result for the right reasons.
The 3.4-mile section of canal in question is located south of U.S. Highway 20 in Bend, between Ward and Gosney roads. Opposition from the Deschutes County Commission and the Deschutes County Historic Landmarks Commission triggered a federal law requiring the state to stop action on the application.
While there’s broad agreement that the region’s canals have general historic significance, this particular portion has had substantive alterations that weaken its suitability to represent that history.
Deschutes County commissioners wrote that it “lacks historic integrity and significance” and cited an irrigation district survey that recommended two other segments instead. A more detailed examination by the Deschutes landmarks commission described extensive alterations and said the nomination “fails to make direct connection to events in the early history of the Deschutes Project with respect to this particular segment …”
Also, three other canal segments already have historic designations:
• Section of the Pilot Butte Canal near Juniper Ridge, nominated by nearby homeowners.
• Section of the Pilot Butte Canal in downtown Redmond, nominated by the Central Oregon Irrigation District after a survey examining historic qualities.
• Section of Central Oregon Canal near Powell Butte at Brasada Ranch, also nominated by COID after its survey.
The critical problem with historic designations is that they likely prevent piping of leaky canals, an essential tool to save water. About 50 percent of water flowing through open canals doesn’t ever get to its destination. The water saved by piping allows more water to stay in the Deschutes River, making it healthier and helping fish and other wildlife. Piping also creates opportunities for hydropower.
The canals were built to make agriculture and development possible in this part of the High Desert. They later became an amenity for nearby homeowners who want to preserve what became attractive water features on their property.
Now, when agriculture, homes, businesses, rivers and wildlife compete for water, it would be irresponsible to allow multiplying historic designations to prevent water-saving strategies.