Deschutes River Conservancy awarded $2.6M to help fish, farms, river flows

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The Deschutes River Conservancy will be awarded $2.6 million to implement water conservation projects within the Central Oregon Irrigation District to reduce water demands and restore flows in the Upper Deschutes River.

This award is part of a $330 million investment by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 85 locally driven, public-private partnerships.

The goal is to address climate change, improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability. Projects are awarded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

“It’s very gratifying to see this project come to fruition,” Fitzpatrick said. “This work will complement ongoing large canal piping to create efficient water distribution systems and open up opportunities for further water stewardship to irrigation districts and patrons. When we can improve these systems, it reduces demand and benefits our precious rivers and streams.”

The Smith Rock Irrigation Modernization and Conservation Project, a partnership between the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC), Central Oregon Irrigation District (COID), NRCS and the Deschutes County Soil and Water Conservation District (DCSWCD), will implement a suite of conservation projects that will increase water savings for senior irrigators, improve reliability for junior irrigators, and improve winter flows in the Upper Deschutes.

“We are committed to conserving Central Oregon’s water resources to benefit fish, farms, and the Deschutes River,” said Central Oregon Irrigation District Manager and Deschutes Basin Board of Control President Craig Horrell. “The investment from NRCS allows us to build on extensive collaborative work currently underway by COID in the Upper Deschutes Basin to restore flows and provide increased water security for basin stakeholders.”

According to the recently finalized Upper Deschutes River Basin Study, water conservation work on the irrigation distribution system as a whole is needed to secure water for fish, farmers and families into the future.

This project will complement irrigation districts’ investment in large canal piping by piping adjacent smaller laterals and implementing on-farm efficiency projects.

The goal is to eventually have a fully piped, pressurized, on-demand system that will allow farmers and districts to manage water more efficiently.

Water conserved from these projects will expand opportunities for water marketing or moving water locally between willing sellers and buyers.

“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a public-private partnership working at its best,” said Terry Cosby, Acting Chief for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “These new projects will harness the power of partnership to help bring about solutions to natural resource concerns across the country while supporting our efforts to combat the climate crisis.”

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