Deschutes River Conservancy, irrigation districts launch water bank program

Upper Deschutes/Jess Kraft
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The Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC), in partnership with Central Oregon Irrigation District and North Unit Irrigation District, is launching the 2022 Deschutes Water Bank Pilot Program.

The program is a local, flexible, and voluntary water management tool, which allows for the easier movement of water to meet farmer and river needs in times of scarcity.  

“We’re excited to offer this program for patrons who are interested in helping farmers in North Unit and the river,” Craig Horrell, manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District. “This complements our water conservation work and is another tool we can use in our efforts to find basin-wide solutions to water issues.” 

The Deschutes Water Bank Pilot Program provides an opportunity for senior irrigation patrons who are interested in helping junior irrigators facing scarcity by receiving a cash payment for volunteering to forego using their irrigation water for the 2022 season.

The water will be made available to North Unit Irrigation District during the irrigation season and will help to restore winter flows in the Upper Deschutes River.

This program is complimentary and in addition to the DRC’s well-established instream lease program, which compensates water users to lease their water directly instream.  

Partners in the Deschutes Basin have been working together for decades to solve long-standing water management inequities.

Aggressive water conservation projects are underway and are a foundational part of the solution.

This Water Bank Pilot Program brings market-based tools alongside water conservation efforts to increase the pace and scale of solutions that fix our rivers while keeping farmers whole.  

The Deschutes River has persistent flow restoration needs based on the overallocation of the river over 100 years ago.

As the most junior irrigation district, North Unit Irrigation District faces water insecurity and suffered severe shortages and economic consequences in 2021 due to extreme drought.

“This pilot program is a great example of how potentially conflicting water interests can work together in powerful ways,” said Mike Britton, North Unit Irrigation executive manager. “NUID will be able to reasonably purchase critically needed irrigation water from COID to help keep our commercial farmers viable during ongoing drought. We will in turn be releasing a portion of this pilot water in the Upper Deschutes the following winter.”

The Water Bank Pilot Program offers a triple benefit—flexibility and incentive payments for senior water users, increased water supply for North Unit Irrigation District and restored flows in the river.

The aim is to build on this pilot program to establish a basin-wide water bank that facilitates and scales these win-win solutions. Increasing demand for water and climate change necessitates adaptive, flexible, and locally driven solutions to meet the water management challenges of the future. 

“This pilot program is designed to provide benefits to all involved and illustrates the kind of flexible locally driven solutions that will be necessary to meet water needs and restore our rivers into the future,” said Kate Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Deschutes River Conservancy. “We are thrilled to partner with NUID and COID on such an innovative program—it’s been a long-time coming.” 

Raising flows in the Upper Deschutes River is a requirement of the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan and NUID’s contribution to winter flows will help meet these requirements.  

Irrigation patrons interested in getting more information on this program are encouraged to visit www.deschuteswaterbank.org to complete an online questionnaire.

Interested parties will be contacted to see if they are eligible for the program. 

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