For over one hundred years, the Deschutes River and its tributaries have supported agricultural communities in Central Oregon. More than 700 miles of irrigation canals deliver water to farmers whose crops make a significant contribution to our national food production.
North Unit Irrigation District, located near Madras and Culver, serves Central Oregon’s most vibrant farming community. Farmers in this district are the most junior water right holders in the Deschutes basin, meaning they are last in line for water. To ensure that farmers in North Unit have sufficient water to grow their crops, the district proactively pursues innovative conservation practices.
Though North Unit’s primary water source comes from the Deschutes River, they also rely heavily on costly water pumped from the Crooked River. The Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) has been working with North Unit to find a solution to address both the irrigation needs of the farmers and conservation needs of the river. In the spring of 2012, North Unit and the DRC completed construction of phase one of the largest streamflow restoration initiative in Oregon’s history.
The first phase of the North Unit Water Supply Program lined 4.9 miles of North Unit’s main canal, conserving Deschutes River water that would otherwise be lost through seepage. This conserved water will now be used on lands that had been irrigated with water pumped from the Crooked River. As a result, up to 80 cubic feet per second (cfs) will remain instream in the Crooked River past Smith Rock State Park during the summer. This is the equivalent of 79 Olympic sized swimming pools per day flowing in the Crooked River. On September 24th, the State of Oregon approved the permanent change in water rights, making this project the first of this scale in Central Oregon.
When completed, the multi-phased North Unit Water Supply Program will allow North Unit farmers to reduce their reliance on pumped water from the Crooked River and will restore up to 198 cubic feet per second (cfs) of streamflow in the section of the Crooked River running through Smith Rock State Park. With flows as low as 10 cfs, historically this section has suffered from poor water quality and a degraded ecosystem. A win-win opportunity for farmers and fish, the North Unit Water Supply Program supports a strong agricultural economy while permanently improving conditions for fish, wildlife and recreation.
North Unit Irrigation District, The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Portland General Electric, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board worked with the DRC to produce this innovative solution to a complicated water management problem.
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