Central Oregon shouldn’t slow down a minute on piping irrigation canals. Piping keeps more water in the Deschutes River.
But neighbors are complaining about the $5 million piping of an irrigation canal off Brookswood Boulevard in Bend. It’s not hard to understand why. The construction is behind a score of homes on Rock Bluff Lane. The Central Oregon Irrigation District property has been used by some as public land with a de facto stream, at least part of the year.
COID’s plan is to pipe 3,000 feet of the canal. The pipe would be covered with native plants. There will be an access road on one side of the canal and a trail on the other. COID also hopes to sell some of the property it owns nearby for development. The property is zoned for residential housing. The money raised from the sale could go to pipe more canals.
Neighbors argue there should have been a more extensive public process. They say there were wetlands along the canal that may be disturbed. Some are also likely worried about homes going in where homes have not been before.
But it’s important to remember that COID went through the required public process. An environmental assessment determined that there were no significant environmental or cultural impacts. And housing is certainly something Bend needs.
Then there’s water. Piping this 3,000-foot stretch of open canal will save about 5 cubic feet of water per second, according to COID measurements. That’s a substantial amount of water lost to leakage from the canal. By piping this canal and others, less water needs to be diverted from the Deschutes River to serve water rights.
COID chose to pipe rather than line the canal for a number of reasons. There are lower, long-term maintenance costs to pipes buried underground. Piping is also safer. People do sometimes play near canals and fall in.
Evaporation is actually not much of a factor in the decision. In Central Oregon, irrigation districts lose about 50 percent of the water in canals to seepage and evaporation. Only about 1.5 percent is lost to evaporation.
More water in the Deschutes looks better, is better for wildlife and better for recreation. Keep on piping the area’s irrigation system.