Two polyethylene pipe welding machines work side-by-side at Watson Reservoir, as TSID races to complete a new irrigation piping system designed to save billions of gallons of Whychus Creek water. photo provided
By Craig Eisenbeis
Three Sisters Irrigation District (TSID) originally hoped to begin their irrigation season on schedule last Friday, but unexpected problems have delayed the current phase of their landmark water conservation piping project.
"It's unfortunate that we've been delayed," said TSID manager Marc Thalacker. "We've had a very snowy winter and some construction delays as a result; but it's important to finish the pipeline and fish screen before we begin irrigation season."
Thalacker noted that the recent cool and damp weather should help to minimize the impact of the delay for TSID customers. He also observed that the cool spring thus far has resulted in a low flow for Whychus Creek. TSID draws its irrigation water from the creek. The fact that the snowmelt is not yet in full swing should mean that the delay will not result in losing too much water under the bridge - so to speak.
In the meantime, TSID is working feverishly to wrap up this part of a project that ultimately figures to save as much 1.4 billion gallons of Whychus Creek water each year, the majority of which will be retained in the stream to augment its flow. The increased flow of water in Whychus Creek is expected to help make possible the restoration of salmon and steelhead runs to the region.
The current phase of the project involves encasing TSID's principal irrigation canal in a pair of 54-inch-high density polyethylene pipes. The project's water savings will result from elimination of water loss through canal leakage and evaporation. The new irrigation pipes have been delivered to TSID in 53-foot lengths that are then "welded" together by an elaborate process that melts the surfaces to be joined and presses the pipe ends together.
"We're running two of these polyethylene pipe welders simultaneously at the reservoir," said Thalacker. "It's incredible. There are only three of these things in the country, and two of them are working here. You'll never see anything like this again."
The piping project has already passed beneath Highway 20 on its way to TSID's Watson Reservoir on the east side of the highway. TSID plans to enclose all of its open canals and install a pair of in-line hydroelectric turbines that will use the pipeline flow to generate between four and five million kilowatt hours per year, according to Thalacker. He likes to point out that the whole community will benefit from the renewable green energy.
Thalacker hopes that water will be running through the new pipelines as early as the end of this week.