A multi-million dollar public investment in water infrastructure should return every drop of conserved water to the river system
As one of only two cold-water inputs to the Middle Deschutes River, the health of Tumalo Creek is critical to the health of the overall Deschutes Basin system. It is imperative that Central Oregonians work together to find solutions to the current imbalance in how water is allocated. A recent proposal to pipe Tumalo Irrigation District’s canals would provide more water to the creek, but upon further analysis it may not be the silver bullet it appears to be.
Tumalo Creek provides a peaceful refuge, outdoor recreation opportunities, and badly-needed crystal-clear cold water to the Middle Deschutes River. However, during irrigation season, very little Tumalo Creek water actually makes it to the confluence with the Deschutes due to Tumalo Irrigation District’s water withdrawals (the City of Bend also draws water from the Creek). River advocates have identified returning flows to Tumalo Creek as one of the highest priorities for restoring the ecology of the Deschutes River.
Tumalo Irrigation District has recently put forward a proposal to receive millions of dollars of public money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to pipe all of its canals. The purported purpose of piping the canals is to improve irrigation system efficiency so that water can be conserved and returned to the creek. However, the District’s proposal ignores other less expensive methods of improving efficiency and contradicts its own statement that all of the water that will be conserved through canal piping will be returned to our rivers and streams.
LandWatch is committed to improving stream flows in the Upper Deschutes River Basin, and critically in Tumalo Creek, while preserving productive agricultural land uses into the future. We are deeply concerned that the first proposal from area irrigation districts to receive public money from the NRCS chooses the most expensive method for conserving water and is unclear about its commitment to returning all water conserved to streams. With millions of dollars of public money on the line, we expect that the full amount of water savings should go towards improving stream flows.
We will continue fighting for responsible use of our natural resources, along with the preservation of agricultural land. We will also continue to pressure Central Oregon’s irrigation districts to deliver real benefits to the public, which means returning all conserved water to our rivers and streams in order to restore healthy stream flows for fish and riparian habitat in the Deschutes River Basin.