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home : current news : current news September 26, 2017


10/20/2015 12:44:00 PM
Irrigation district marks milestone
Peter West of Energy Trust (with microphone) presented a check for $1 million to TSID manager Marc Thalacker during observances at Watson Reservoir last week.photo by Jim Cornelius
+ click to enlarge
Peter West of Energy Trust (with microphone) presented a check for $1 million to TSID manager Marc Thalacker during observances at Watson Reservoir last week.

photo by Jim Cornelius

By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

At the flip of a switch, the turbine in a new 700Kw power generating plant at Three Sisters Irrigation District's Watson Reservoir began to hum last Friday.

It was a symbolic culminating moment in a decades-long process that has put water back in Whychus Creek, improved delivery of water for local agriculture - and now is using piped waterflow to put power into the local electrical grid.

Dignitaries from Senator Jeff Merkley to Dionne Thompson, deputy commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and Margi Hoffmann, energy policy advisor to Oregon Governor Kate Brown, were on hand to mark the occasion.

Merkley noted the backdrop of the Three Sisters - almost barren of snow. And he commented on driving past Detroit Lake on his way to Sisters Country and seeing how low the water level has gotten.

"I've never seen it close to that," he told an assemblage of local irrigators and interested citizens. "That really frames the challenge of how we manage water."

TSID has, for many years now, been engaged in piping its irrigation ditches, which has put substantial flows back into Whychus Creek while improving water delivery to the farmers the district serves. So far, the district has piped over 40 of its 60 miles of canals, and plans to complete the piping in the next couple of years.

TSID Manager Marc Thalacker drew a stark comparison between the severe drought of 1977 and the one Sisters Country is experiencing right now. In 1977, Whychus Creek ran dry and farmers were receiving 10 percent of their allotted water. This year - with conditions as bad or worse - farmers received between 20 percent and 40 percent of their water, enabling many to get a second cutting of hay. And Whychus Creek never went dry, with a minimum 20 cfs (cubic feet per second) of flow maintained despite the drought.

TSID, partnering with the nonprofit Energy Trust, have also built the Watson Hyrdroelectric Facility, which was dedicated on Friday. The plant generates about 3.1 million kilowatt hours annually.

The piping of TSID's open canals has not been without controversy. It's generated legal actions and demonstrations and protests over the perceived loss of established watercourses and habitat. Some did not like what they considered a heavy-handed approach to the work.

But those on hand at Friday's ceremonies touted TSID's work as an example of how modernizing irrigation systems can bring a variety of benefits to a broad community.

"Three Sisters Irrigation District has demonstrated resourcefulness and innovative leadership," said Dionne Thompson, deputy commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Over the last 10 years, TSID leveraged more than $15 million in grant funding to do more than $25 million worth of work on its projects.

Margi Hoffmann, energy policy advisor to Oregon Governor Kate Brown, noted that current environmental conditions point up the critical importance of agencies and organizations working together.

"The Governor has issued more drought declarations than ever in the history of Oregon," she said. "This is an opportunity to recognize that we really can come together and move forward. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make the world go 'round... We are very lucky to live in a state that is chock full of innovators."

Sen. Merkley acknowledged that projects on the ground like the TSID work he celebrated Friday are a kind of antidote to the gridlock associated with Washington, D.C.

"The perception of DC ... is basically spot-on," he said. "Too much partisanship and too much paralysis."

But in the irrigation and energy work done in Sisters Country, "there is an enormous sense of urgent cooperation," Merkley said. "This shows the environmental, energy and agriculture communities all coming together in a real win-win."









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