Senator Merkley to Tour $30 Million Bend Irrigation District Project March 19


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Senator Jeff Merkley and NRCS Chief Matt Lohr celebrate innovative irrigation modernization accomplishments in Central Oregon: $30 million Tumalo Irrigation District project; four new hydro turbines at Watson Micro Hydro Demonstration Project facility.

WHEN:  Tuesday, March 19, 10:30am


  • S. Senator Jeff Merkley
  • Matt Lohr, chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Ken Rieck, district manager, Tumalo Irrigation District
  • Marc Thalacker, district manager, Three Sisters Irrigation District
  • Betsy Kauffman, renewable energy sector lead, Energy Trust of Oregon
  • Julie O’Shea, executive director, Farmers Conservation Alliance

WHERE:  Three Sisters Irrigation District

  • Watson Micro Hydro Demonstration Project facility
    68000 Highway 20, Bend

WHAT:  Tumalo Irrigation District Ribbon Cutting:

  • Ribbon cutting to kick-off project modernizing the Tumalo Irrigation District water delivery system, offering a win for farmers, wildlife and the Central Oregon economy.
  • Over the next 11 years, the District’s work will conserve 48 cubic feet of water per second and save farmers more than four million kilowatt hours of energy through the conversion of 69 miles of canals into pressurized pipe.
  • Tumalo Irrigation District is one of more than 20 Oregon irrigation districts working on irrigation modernization as part of an innovative program created by Farmers Conservation Alliance in partnership with Energy Trust of Oregon.
  • Innovative collaboration by local, state and federal governments, along with tribal and nonprofit organizations.

 Watson Micro Hydro Demonstration Project Tour:

  • Ribbon cutting to celebrate completion of a new Watson Micro Hydro Demonstration Project at Three Sisters Irrigation District, which adds four hydro turbines near the site of an existing hydro project owned by the district.
  • Currently, the facility generates about 3.1 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power 275 average Oregon homes each year. With the addition of these four turbines, the district will generate 26 percent more energy while showcasing turbine technology that can be used in on-farm hydropower projects. There are more than 60 sites at farms in the district with hydropower potential.
  • The District’s existing $2.3 million, 700-killowatt hydroelectric plant on the Watson Reservoir converts excess gravity pressure from the piped irrigation water into a renewable energy source for the district and surrounding communities. The new project, a $700,000, 200-kilowatt installation, functions in the same manner but with smaller scale turbines suitable for on-farm use.
  • The hydroelectric turbines not only provide a renewable energy source, but the money saved and generated from this clean energy can be used to offset the district’s irrigation modernization projects.


  • Ceremonial ribbon cutting for Tumalo Irrigation District
  • Welding demonstration on 84-inch pipe used in irrigation modernization
  • Presentation of ceremonial check for $400,000 to Three Sisters Irrigation District for energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives from Energy Trust of Oregon
  • Ceremonial ribbon cutting for four new hydroelectric turbines at the Watson Micro Hydro Demonstration Project
  • Tour of both the 700-kilowatt and 200-kilowatt hydropower facilities at Three Sisters Irrigation District Watson Reservoir

Most irrigation districts in Oregon operate aging open canal systems, many more than a century old. Upgrading these systems is complex and expensive.

Farmers Conservation Alliance, with support from Energy Trust of Oregon, developed the Irrigation Modernization Program in 2015 to help irrigation districts and the farmers they serve navigate the complex world of planning, permitting and funding that is required to repair and replace aging waterways. Irrigation modernization projects have received more than $50 million in state and federal funding, enabling agricultural, environmental, economic, energy and community benefits.

Modernized irrigation systems create opportunities for rural communities to:

  • Increase water reliability
  • Develop local renewable energy resources
  • Strengthen the community through generation of a new revenue source
  • Improve fish and wildlife habitat by conserving water in rivers and streams


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