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New program to help Oregon farms, fish and wildlife targets billions of gallons annually in water savings

Farmers Conservation Alliance provides support and leadership to modernize 12 irrigation districts so far

HOOD RIVER, Ore. — May 19, 2016 — As climate change and growth put pressure on Oregon’s water supplies, a collaborative, public-private effort to upgrade aging infrastructure at a dozen Oregon irrigation districts is poised to save billions of gallons of water annually, generate clean energy, return water to streams and improve habitat for fish.

Today, Farmers Conservation Alliance, FCA, announced its statewide partnership, a program that joins 12 rural irrigation districts, local farmers, state and federal agencies, Energy Trust of Oregon and conservation groups in a common purpose: to create state-of-the art irrigation districts that will produce significant energy and water conservation benefits, sustain family farms, bolster rural prosperity, improve drought resiliency and enhance environmental quality.

Most agricultural water is delivered by irrigation districts to farms through 100-year-old, open canal systems that can lose significant amounts of water through seepage and evaporation. A modern irrigation district replaces open canals with pipes, saving water and leaving more water in-stream for fish and wildlife. Pressurized pipes allow irrigators to remove pumps, which saves electricity, maintenance and replacement costs and enables upgrades to more water-efficient irrigation systems on-farm. Excess water pressure can also be used to generate hydropower.

“By updating this aging infrastructure, our state, and the entire western U.S., has an extraordinary opportunity to meet the challenges caused by long-term droughts while supporting agricultural resiliency, irrigation efficiency and environmental goals,” said Julie Davies O’Shea, executive director, FCA.

Due to cost and complexity, only three of Oregon’s approximately 200 irrigation districts have conducted successful modernization planning and implementation efforts. Over a 10-year period, Three Sisters Irrigation District near Sisters, Oregon piped 50 of its 63 miles of canals, pressurizing water delivery and eliminating irrigation pumps. “Piping our canals saves more than

two billion gallons of water annually,” said Mark Thalacker, district manager, Three Sisters Irrigation District. “Our long-term modernization effort helped re-introduce steelhead, took advantage of excess water pressure by installing a hydropower turbine, and delivered water to farmers and kept water in-stream for fish even during the historic 2015 drought.”

FCA’s Irrigation Modernization program, with initial funding provided by Energy Trust, is designed to help irrigation districts modernize their systems more quickly than if they go it alone. “This is about giving more districts the tools and financing they need to modernize so farmers and fish can weather drought and water scarcity into the future,” said O’Shea.

Small-scale hydropower projects are a practical extension of modern irrigation districts that use pipes to deliver water.

“Energy Trust is working with FCA to accelerate renewable energy development in Oregon through small-scale hydropower. By piping open canals and pressurizing the water within, irrigation districts have the ability to add clean energy to their modernization check list. Energy Trust helps them check the box with cash incentives that lower the cost to install a hydropower turbine,” said Jed Jorgensen, program manager, Energy Trust. “We see a huge collaborative opportunity here.”

The 12 districts already working with FCA are: Arnold Irrigation District in Bend, Central Oregon Irrigation District in Redmond, East Fork Irrigation District in Hood River, Hudson Bay District Improvement Company in Milton-Freewater, Lone Pine Irrigation District in Terrebonne, North Prairie Creek Ditch in Enterprise, North Unit Irrigation District in Madras, Ochoco Irrigation District in Prineville, Swalley Irrigation District in Bend, Three Sisters Irrigation District in Sisters, Tumalo Irrigation District in Tumalo and the Westside Ditch in Lostine. All are expected to complete assessments by early 2017. The assessments will identify the renewable energy, energy efficiency, agricultural, water, environmental and economic benefits associated with modernization and recommend various potential implementation approaches.

For more information or to contact the Irrigation Modernization program, go to, or call Julie Davies O’Shea at 541-716-6085.

MEDIA NOTE: Video and irrigation district case studies available on website

FARMERS CONSERVATION ALLIANCE: Formed in 2005, Farmers Conservation Alliance is a nonprofit organization initially created to market the Farmers Screen™, an innovative fish technology developed and licensed by the Farmers Irrigation District of Hood River, Oregon. While marketing and exploring other solutions to benefit the environment and agriculture, Farmers Conservation Alliance has spent the last decade forming collaborative relationships that accelerate the great work of irrigation districts, agencies and organizations. Farmers Conservation Alliance developed and administers the Irrigation Modernization program, building teams and alliances to help modernize irrigation districts and realize the agricultural, environmental and economic benefits for all.

ENERGY TRUST: Energy Trust of Oregon is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping utility customers benefit from saving energy and generating renewable power. Our services, cash incentives and energy solutions have helped participating customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas save more than $2.3 billion on energy bills. Our work helps keep energy costs as low as possible, creates jobs and builds a sustainable energy future. Learn more at or call 1-866-368-7878.

Category: Industry + Agriculture, Renewable Energy