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Success Story

Critical water infrastructure upgrade begins in Deschutes River Basin

Central Oregon

Three irrigation districts in the Deschutes River Basin are embarking on a major effort to modernize infrastructure serving 2,500 farmers and producers and 85,000 acres of land. Once complete, the upgrade will save energy and millions of gallons of water each year, lowering costs for Oregon farmers.

With support from Energy Trust, Farmers Conservation Alliance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the State of Oregon and others, Arnold Irrigation District, North Unit Irrigation District and Ochoco Irrigation District began the estimated $120 million process in late 2023 of converting aging, open ditch irrigation canals into modern piped, pressurized systems.

The districts’ current, roughly 100-year-old canals can lose as much as 70% of the water they carry to evaporation and leakage at a time when the region faces prolonged drought.

“Modernizing irrigation systems is the key to thriving farms, healthy rivers, and resilient communities. We’re excited to see this work in Central Oregon take off and know it will have a positive impact for generations to come,” said Julie O’Shea, executive director of Farmers Conservation Alliance.

Over the next several years, the districts will replace nearly 50 miles of open canal with pressurized pipe. The new systems will be far more reliable for farmers and save roughly 64 cubic feet of water per second during irrigation season, which will lower costs by more than $800,000 per year.

The work will also protect and improve habitat for aquatic species, especially within McKay Creek.

Irrigation modernization requires significant partnerships due to the financial and technical challenges involved. In this case, the districts worked closely with Farmers Conservation Alliance and Energy Trust to incorporate energy efficiency into their plans.

In addition, Energy Trust’s early stage development assistance for irrigation modernization helps ensure irrigation districts can leverage critical federal funding down the road.

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