Deschutes Water Bank, in second year, seeks to ease water shortages for junior irrigators, rivers

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – The Deschutes River Conservancy, in partnership with the Central Oregon Irrigation District and North Unit Irrigation District, is continuing its 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.  

The Deschutes Water Bank Pilot Program provides an opportunity for COID patrons along the Pilot Butte Canal to receive a cash payment to forego using their water for the 2023 irrigation season. The water will then be made available to North Unit Irrigation District during the irrigation season and will help to restore winter flows in the Upper Deschutes River.

Water banked in the 2022 program will contribute to the beleaguered reach of the Upper Deschutes to support fish and wildlife habitat when flows drop this fall. The Water Bank program complements and provides additional flows 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. Large-scale 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 restore our rivers while keeping farmers whole.  

The Deschutes River has persistent flow restoration needs based on the over-allocation 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 2022 due to extreme drought.

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

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

Kate Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Deschutes River Conservancy said, “This water bank 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. We are thrilled to partner with NUID and COID on such an innovative program.”

Mike Britton, North Unit Irrigation Executive Manager said, “This program is a great example of how potentially conflicting water interests can work together in powerful ways. 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.”

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.

COID patrons (served by the PBC ) 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.

The Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) formed 25 years ago with a mission to restore streamflow and improve water quality in the Deschutes River Basin. The DRC has a multi-stakeholder board and through collaborative efforts has restored up to 208 cfs (equivalent to 93,357 gallons per minute) of flow in the basin with non-litigious, voluntary, and market-based programs. For more information about the DRC visit www.deschutesriver.org.

About Central Oregon Irrigation District: Established in 1918, Central Oregon Irrigation District (COID) is a Municipal Corporation of the State of Oregon. The district’s mission is to provide a reliable supply of water to 3,500 patrons throughout Bend, Redmond, Powell Butte, and Alfalfa. COID operates and maintains over 400 miles of canals that collectively deliver water to approximately 42,556 acres of productive land. www.coid.org

North Unit Irrigation District plays an invaluable role in conveying irrigation water to nearly 60,000 irrigated acres of productive farmland in Central Oregon. As Oregon’s second-largest irrigation district, North Unit is a state and regional economic powerhouse. The district has served the agricultural water needs of Jefferson County and the surrounding community, since 1945. It was formed in 1913, with the sole purpose of delivering agricultural water and remains the largest irrigation district in Central Oregon today. www.northunit.com

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