Just under 3 1⁄2 miles of a Central Oregon Irrigation District canal to the east of Bend could become the region’s newest historic landmark.
A section of the 47-mile Central Oregon Canal was nominated earlier this year to be added to the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district, operated by the National Park Service. On Monday, the Deschutes County Historic Landmarks Commission heard arguments for and against the nomination.
If nominated, the 3.4-mile stretch of canal, located between Ward Road and Gosney Road south of U.S. Highway 20, will become the second portion of Deschutes County’s iconic canal system to receive the national designation.
“There’s so much history tied to that canal,” said Pat Kliewer, who prepared the nomination.
Parts of the Central Oregon Canal date to 1905, around the same time the cities of Bend and Redmond were first platted. Kliewer said Central Oregon was one of the last large areas of the U.S. without access to a railroad line, and the construction of irrigation canals helped water the arid landscape enough to encourage future development.
“Central Oregon would look totally different without that canal,” she said.
Kliewer said the portion of the canal that’s included in the nomination stands out because it’s a particularly good representation of how the canal looked and functioned when it was first constructed. The stretch of canal is surrounded by farms that still use the water today, as well as homesteads that were intended for farming, but never got off the ground. While some portions of Central Oregon’s network of canals have been converted to piping, this portion of the Central Oregon Canal retains its rocky, open appearance.
“It largely looks like it did 100 years ago,” added Noah Walden, a nearby property owner who contributed to the nomination, during the commission meeting.
However, Craig Horrell, manager of Central Oregon Irrigation District, expressed frustration with the process during the commission meeting. The irrigation district, which manages the Central Oregon Canal, proposed two canal segments to be submitted to the National Register of Historic Places. The first of which, on Pilot Butte Canal in downtown Redmond, was accepted into the register earlier this year.
Horrell argued that the stretch of the Central Oregon Canal that the district had selected, in Powell Butte near Brasada Ranch, would have been a better choice than the segment between Ward and Gosney road, selected by nearby property owners.
“We have made some tough choices,” Horrell said.
He added that the Brasada Ranch segment had more historic features in place. The portion between Ward and Gosney roads has had leaks and other problems in the past, requiring repairs that damage the historic nature of the canal and conflict with future plans to pipe the canal. “… Just as the telegraph eventually gave way to telephone lines and fiber optic cable, our community must recognize that open, unlined, leaky canals are not the most efficient or appropriate way to convey water across lava rock in a high desert,” reads testimony submitted by Horrell before the commission meeting.
The process to add a district to the national register is a circuitous one. Any nomination must be reviewed by several state and local planning bodies, including the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office and the local landmarks commission. Next, the Deschutes County Commission will hear the item on Wednesday, and the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation will review the nomination Oct. 20.
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