Irrigation district success honored


Last updated 8/2/2022 at Noon


Senator Jeff Merkley spoke at an event celebrating the completion of 62 miles of piping on the Three Sisters Irrigation District

Three Sisters Irrigation District serves 129 farms on 7,572 irrigated acres. The 130-year-old district delivers water from Whychus Creek to farmers and ranchers through over 62 miles of canals, laterals and pipelines. Ninety-three percent of those conveyances have been converted to pressurized pipe.

The results, 25 years in the making, are measurable. Losses to seepage or evaporation are now negligible. Water delivery has been improved in times of drought by 25 percent. The District is certified carbon neutral.

TSID is saving 55-60 cfs (cubic feet per second) of water, 32 of which remains in-stream. Since the early 1900s Whychus Creek ran dry in two out of every three years due to irrigation diversions.

The District’s waterflows are also generating power. The Watson Hydroelectric plant produces 700 kW, the Net Meter Micro-Hydro Project generates 200 kW and the soon to be online McKenzie Hydro plant will contribute 300 kW. That’s 1.2 megawatts or enough power for roughly 750 homes.

Despite the drought in Central Oregon, indeed much of the west, the District was still delivering 100 percent to its customers when Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Department of Agriculture undersecretary, Robert Bonnie visited Sisters last Friday. Both spoke to a gathering of about 75 stakeholders who gathered to celebrate the completion of 62 miles of piping and the August start-up of the McKenzie Hydro Plant.

“Prior to 1997 when all 65 miles of canals were open, that (flow) would be sinking through the bottom of our canals and the stream would be dry right now,” said Marc Thalacker, the District’s Executive Director.

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It is Merkley’s second visit to Sisters Country to boost irrigation modernization. In March of 2019 he was on hand to cut the ribbon on the new Watson Micro Hydro Demonstration Project, developing on-farm systems for renewable energy production.

In their remarks Friday Merkley and Bonnie noted the essential benefits of irrigation modernization and the funding for same. Energy savings:

“Instead of relying on electric pumps, updated designs take advantage of gravity to pressurize and move water through the system. Pressurized systems also help farmers save money and allow them to upgrade to higher-efficiency on-farm irrigation equipment,” Bonnie told the audience.

Water savings: Modern pipes replace open canals and old, leaky systems, so all water diverted from streams makes it to farms — instead of being lost to evaporation and seepage.

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Renewable energy generation: Where pressure is created, hydropower can be incorporated to generate fish-friendly, renewable electricity. The revenue stream — which will continue for decades into the future — stays local and can be used to help pay for the cost of these projects. Incorporating small-scale hydroelectric generation can also help Oregon meet its renewable energy goals, strengthen the electric grid and increase energy resilience across the state.

Improved wildlife habitat: “Irrigation modernization means more water is left in streams for fish and wildlife,” Merkley said.

Standing nearby, their truck providing shade, were the crew from TSID who did the work — which is a lot of ditch digging and fill.

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The event lasted about an hour with guests and dignitaries treated to lunch.


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