Plans to modernize East Fork Irrigation District’s irrigation infrastructure in Oregon’s Hood River watershed have been approved to move forward into construction.
The $67 million project will pipe 56 miles of district-owned canals and laterals and will conserve water, reduce energy use, improve operational efficiencies, improve water delivery reliability, increase public safety, enhance fish and wildlife habitat in the Hood River watershed, and reduce sediment in irrigation water, says the district.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has released a Final Watershed Plan-Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for the East Fork Irrigation District Infrastructure Modernization Project. NRCS has determined that the project will not cause significant local, regional or national impacts to the environment.
The project is a joint effort among NRCS, East Fork Irrigation District, Bonneville Power Administration, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Hood River Watershed Group, Energy Trust of Oregon, Farmers Conservation Alliance and in coordination with other agencies, stakeholders, and the public.
A recent Bureau of Reclamation study of the Hood River Basin noted that there is already a lack of adequate streamflow in the basin during the summer months to meet the competing demands for water.
“This imbalance is expected to be exacerbated by climate change,” says the study. “The basin’s natural runoff is projected to increase during the fall and winter months and decrease during the spring and summer months when water uses are greater. Hood River basin streamflow relies heavily on snowmelt at the beginning of summer and Mount Hood glacial melt during August and September of each year.
“Warming temperatures in future years will increase the speed of snowpack and glacial melting. Also, glaciers and snowpack are projected to continue to decrease in size and volume. Currently, between 50 and 70 percent of flow during the critical water use period is provided from glacial melt. Once the Mount Hood glaciers fully recede, the basin will lose one of its largest water storage supplies.
“Some of the primary demands placed on the basin’s surface and groundwater supplies include potable water; irrigation needs; hydropower; protection of aquatic species, in particular Endangered Species Act-listed fish; recreation; and scenic value. These demands are expected to increase as climate change and population growth impact water resources in the region.”
The study noted the “need to prepare now to ensure reliable water deliveries and sufficient instream flows for threatened and endangered fish in the future.”
With a completed Plan-EA in place, the project is now eligible for federal funding and may move forward into construction.
By converting open-ditch irrigation canals into underground, closed-piped systems, the project will eliminate water losses from end spills, saving an estimated 16.6 cubic feet per second, or 5,287 acre-feet annually. The District will allocate 75 percent of the saved water, or up to 12.45 cubic feet per second, to instream use during the irrigation season.
The project may be partially funded through the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program, administered by NRCS and authorized by Public Law 83-566. Through this program, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to local organizations for planning and carrying out projects that help solve natural resource and related economic problems in a specific watershed. These issues can include watershed protection, flood prevention, erosion and sediment control, water supply, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat enhancement, and wetlands creation.
For more information about this project and other irrigation modernization efforts, visit the NRCS Oregon public notice webpage at www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/or/newsroom/pnotice/