A third section of canal overseen by the Central Oregon Irrigation District has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 3.4-mile segment along the Central Oregon Canal east of Bend joins the historic registry with two other segments along the Pilot Butte Canal in Bend and Redmond.
A group of property owners nominated the newly listed segment, bordered by Ward Road on the west and Gosney Road on the east. Oregon’s State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation then recommended forwarding the nomination to the National Park Service, which maintains the historic registry, and it was approved in March.
The segment, built in 1905, is considered historic for the way it was constructed on volcanic terrain and how it allowed water to flow in the High Desert, which led to more agricultural production, population growth and the commercial and economic development of Alfalfa, Powell Butte and Bend.
“It represents the extensive, ambitious open canal system that conveyed water by gravity between the Deschutes River in Bend and the Powell Butte area,” the property owners wrote in the 189-page nomination document. “It brought about widespread change in the arid region.”
The historic listing of the canal segment faced opposition.
Central Oregon Irrigation District originally preferred to list a different segment of its Central Oregon Canal in Powell Butte near Brasada Ranch. The segment included historic pieces of a former siphon structure, known as a wood stave pipe, that was specially designed to carry the Central Oregon Canal across an ancient stream bed between Alfalfa and Powell Butte.
Craig Horrell, manager of Central Oregon Irrigation District, argued at a Deschutes County Commission meeting last year that the stretch of canal near Brasada Ranch would have been a better choice than the segment between Ward and Gosney roads. Horrell said the portion east of Bend had leaks and other problems in the past, requiring repairs that damaged the historic nature of the canal.
But during the process, the ownership of Brasada Ranch changed and the new owners objected to listing that section of canal as historic.
COID changed course and eventually agreed to support the nomination of the canal segment east of Bend.
The Deschutes County Commission and the county’s historic landmarks commission also wrote letters of support for the historic listing, said Jason Allen, the survey and inventory program coordinator with the state historic preservation office who helped forward the nomination to the National Park Service.
“Because both the property owners and COID had come to an agreement to both support the nomination, the (County Commission) and Historic Landmarks supported the nomination,” Allen said.
Being listed on the National Register of Historic Places helps protect the segments of canal, but it does not stop future development of the canals.
For example, COID still plans to pipe the entire Pilot Butte canal but will put the pipe underneath the preserved segment in Redmond.
Before any construction occurs, COID would have to discuss plans with the state historic preservation office and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is involved in historic preservation, Allen said.
“If alterations to significant elements of the preserved segments are ever proposed, we’ll discuss with COID and Reclamation to figure out what to do at the time, but the goal will of course be to continue to preserve them,” Allen said.
Shon Rae, deputy managing director at COID, said there are no immediate plans for upgrading the canal near the newly listed section east of Bend.
In the meantime, the irrigation district plans to find ways to recognize the historical significance of the designed segment, Rae said. One option is to install an interpretive kiosk filled with historic facts and photographs.
The century-old canals helped establish life in the High Desert and are still a critical part of life in the region today, Rae said.
“Canals are basically why we are here,” she said. “There is definitely a need to pay respect to them.”
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