Bring back the Central Oregon Water Bank. In July 2006, two local irrigation districts and the Deschutes River Conservancy formed the water bank.
It helped with one of the major water issues in the Deschutes Basin, moving water from where it isn’t needed to where it is.
The water bank made its first deal in December 2006. The city of Bend made a deal to take water that was no longer needed for farming. That water was put back instream — back into the river. In return, the city got mitigation credits so it could pump more groundwater. The city paid $161,796. It was better use of the water in the basin. Dozens of deals followed.
The problem with the Central Oregon Water Bank is it effectively died.
Anything new and different in water in Oregon can worry water rights holders and irrigation districts. A water bank can be perceived as a threat, a subtle step toward unraveling water rights and dismantling the control of irrigation districts. Permanently shifting water away from an irrigation district, if taken to an extreme, could threaten its existence.
But a Central Oregon water bank does not have to be that. Water banks can mean different things to different people. This is what we are talking about:
1. Irrigation districts would have control.
2. Deals could be only temporary.
3. Deals would be voluntary.
The exchanges would be between willing local buyers and willing local sellers. Out-of-state corporations or other entities would not be allowed to scoop up Deschutes Basin water. Local people would be working to create better arrangements to meet local water needs.
Nobody would be forced to do anything. It wouldn’t change any state law. It could be structured to do only temporary transactions. Nothing permanent. Water rights would be retained. The Deschutes River Conservancy could manage it, as it did before.
As the basin urbanizes, it’s a fact that less water is needed for farming. There have got to be ways to properly reallocate water in a basin system that is for the most part inflexible.
A water bank isn’t the only solution. A water bank doesn’t solve a drought. But unless changes are made the Deschutes Basin is going to face continued gaps between the supply of water and demand. The most comprehensive basin study put that number at 135,000 acre feet to 350,000 acre feet in dry years. (An acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land one foot deep.)
Yes, we need to make changes to increase the efficiency of how water is used, such as canal piping and improvements in irrigation. But it’s cheaper to make changes, such as the water bank, that make it easier to shift water where it is needed. Bring back the water bank.