Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, July 24, 2015, Page 6, Image 34

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July 24, 2015
Finding new water, and places to store it, a difficult process
Capital Press
watermaster called Duane
Eder the first week of July
and told him to shut down a
pump pulling irrigation water
from the Pudding River. His
other diversion pumps, oper-
ating under more senior water
rights, were likely to follow.
In 40 years of farming, it
was the earliest Eder has re-
ceived a shutoff order. Usu-
ally it comes in August, and
lasts for only a couple weeks.
This year, as drought again
grips most of California and
the Pacific Northwest, he’s not
so sure he’ll be able to start
pumping again or rely on his
diminished wells to nurse his
crops to harvest.
Eder is a board member of
the East Valley Water District,
which hopes to build a new
reservoir that would provide
supplemental irrigation wa-
ter in conditions such as this.
The proposed project, on Drift
Creek about six miles south-
east of Silverton, is opposed
by some conservationists and
by some neighbors who would
lose land to flooding as the res-
ervoir filled or might be forced
to sell in an eminent domain
It’s a situation that illus-
trates the complicated search
not only for more water, but
for more places to store it.
Dealing with change
Water wouldn’t seem to be
much of a worry in Oregon’s
Willamette Valley, with its
rainy reputation, but city and
industrial growth, changing
weather patterns and fish and
wildlife management policies
are clouding the picture for ag-
The biggest issue under-
way is the pending re-alloca-
tion of water stored in the 13
Willamette Basin dams and
reservoirs operated by the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers. The
projects were built primarily
for flood control, but the stor-
Laurie Nicholas, Portland district water management chief for the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said water stored in Willamette
Basin reservoirs is intended for multiple uses.
Photos by Eric Mortenson/Capital Press
Willamette Valley farmer Duane Eder sits by a pump he was ordered to turn off in July. He uses water
from the Pudding River and from wells, but favors building a reservoir to store irrigation water.
age behind them is “viewed
as the last remaining supply
of water for meeting future
needs,” as a 2013 Oregon Wa-
ter Resources Department re-
port described it.
As such, cities, industrial
users, recreation and fisheries
interests, farmers and others
have a stake in the outcome.
“Those users, when you
talk about re-allocation, will
all be sitting at table wanting
their piece of the pie,” said
Brent Stevenson, manager of
the Santiam Water Control
The three-year process will
revise a curious and mislead-
ing system.
The Willamette Basin proj-
ects contain conservation stor-
age for 1.6 million acre-feet
of water. The federal Bureau
of Reclamation holds the sole
water right certificate on that
storage, and it is deemed for
But the bureau contracts
out only 75,000 to 80,000
acre-feet annually, a fraction
of the irrigation water supply
that exists on paper.
The reallocation process
most likely will result in each
user — ag, cities and industry,
recreation, fisheries and so on
– receiving a set amount of the
stored water, said Laurie Nich-
olas, water management chief
for the Corps of Engineers’
Portland district.
For that reason, it’s critical
that users assess how much
water they’ll need in the fu-
ture, Nicholas said. The Ore-
gon Department of Agriculture
is in the process of doing that
now. One of the questions to
consider, department officials
have said, is what crops farm-
ers might grow if they had ac-
cess to more irrigation water.
Climate change is part of
the discussion.
According to the Water Re-
sources’ report, scientific mod-
els say the Willamette Basin
is headed for warmer, wetter
winters and hotter, drier sum-
mers. The average temperature
is projected to increase by 2
to 7 degrees Celsius over the
next century, and the Cascades
snowpack will decrease by 60
percent, according to the re-
Melting snow traditionally
provides up to 80 percent of
the Willamette River’s flow
in late summer, but that flow
is expected to decrease by 20
to 50 percent as the mountain
snowpacks diminish, accord-
ing to the report.
“The area’s reliance on
high-elevation water during
summer months highlights the
vulnerability of the Willamette
Basin to the influences of a
warming climate,” the report
Nicholas acknowledged
the corps’ reservoir opera-
tions may need revision. The
corps follows a “rule curve”
that keeps water levels low in
December and January in or-
der to maintain room for flood
control storage. Historically,
reservoirs fill from February to
mid-May and release water in
the summer months.
But traditional spring rains
came and went, and the meager
snowpack had largely melted
by June. It won’t be available
to give a late-season “bump”
of water for streamflows. The
basin’s reservoirs in mid-July
sat at about 40 percent full.
Nicholas said some critics
believe the corps should begin
filling reservoirs earlier in the
year to reflect changing cli-
mate patterns. But she said the
agency must retain its flood
control capability, and chang-
ing the operating rules might
be risky.
One proposal
It’s in this uncertain re-al-
location atmosphere that the
East Valley Water District has
decided to go its own way and
build a storage reservoir.
It would be located on
Drift Creek about six miles
southeast of Silverton and
would require construction
of an earthen dam about 70
feet high. The reservoir would
store about 12,000 acre-feet
of water.
The conservation group
WaterWatch opposes the
project, calling the Water Re-
sources Department’s prelimi-
nary approval “a decision that
might seem more appropriate
in 1914, not 2014.”
The group believes the res-
ervoir would inundate habitat
for winter steelhead and Pa-
cific lamprey in addition to
flooding some neighboring
Eder, the East Valley
board member, says the dis-
trict carefully considered oth-
er sites for the reservoir and
believes the Drift Creek loca-
tion is the best. He hopes the
district can work things out
with opposing landowners,
some of whom he considers
Like other farmers in the
area, Eder has wells with
which to water his onions,
beans, peas, cauliflower and
other crops when he can’t
pump from the Pudding Riv-
er. He said his wells are not
holding up this year.
“They’re dropping like it’s
the middle of August,” he said.
Two-thirds of the district is
in a state-declared groundwa-
ter limited area, meaning ad-
ditional wells aren’t likely to
be approved, and new surface
withdrawals from the Pudding
aren’t allowed.
The project will be ex-
pensive, $40 million to $60
million, but Eder and others
believe it’s the only way to
sustain high-value crops in
the area. The district hopes
for funding help from state
and federal sources.
A bill passed in the 2013
Oregon Legislature estab-
lished a $10 million water
supply development fund for
such projects, but rules for
the program were just com-
pleted in July.
Elizabeth Howard, a Port-
land attorney who specializ-
es in water law issues, said
funding, regulatory compli-
ance and guiding projects
through feasibility analysis
and public review are diffi-
Drought and climate
change have brought water
issues to the forefront, how-
ever. The Legislature’s action
in 2013 was a step in the right
direction, she said.
“There’s definitely a sense
of urgency right now to look
for water availability,” How-
ard said. “It is a long and ex-
pensive process, with a lot of
hurdles to get through.”
States emphasizing aquifer recharge
Capital Press
As water becomes more
scarce, states are increasingly
bolstering their groundwa-
ter supplies through managed
aquifer recharge — intention-
ally allowing surplus surface
water to seep into an underlying
aquifer for later use.
In some states, such as Or-
egon and Washington, the em-
phasis of recharge programs is
on “aquifer storage and recov-
ery,” which utilizes the supple-
mental groundwater essentially
as an extra storage reservoir for
users who hold the rights.
In Idaho and California,
however, state leaders consider
recharge to be an essential tool
to address declining aquifer
levels and potential shortages.
John Izbicki, research hy-
drologist with the U.S. Geolog-
ical Survey in San Diego, said
California has been conducting
recharge since the late 1880s,
and many of the facilities that
are still being used to inject
surface water into aquifers date
back at least a century. The
Golden State has invested bil-
lions in recharge infrastructure
throughout the years, Izbicki
“This is not the first drought
that the state has lived through,”
Izbicki said. “The whole state
water project is a response to
Courtesy of Brian Olmstead
Winter recharge water bound for Idaho’s Murtaugh Lake flows past
a weir for measurement in early November. States including Idaho
are increasingly relying on managed aquifer recharge to bolster
their groundwater supplies, in preparation for drought years.
droughts that occurred in the
late 1960s, basically engineer-
ing our way out of the problem,
and groundwater recharge was
one of the solutions.”
The major recharge project
is conducted mostly for urban
use by the Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California,
which recharges up to 750,000
acre-feet per year. The entity
serves 26 member agencies and
about 19 million people. Izbic-
ki said United Water Conserva-
tion District in Ventura is an ag-
ricultural entity that “puts huge
amounts of water from the San-
ta Clara River underground.”
Oregon operates a dozen
aquifer storage and recovery
projects, three of which benefit
agriculture, including within
the Umatilla Basin, according
to Ivan Gall, manager with
the Oregon Water Resources
section. For the past 25 years,
Gall said the department has
also operated a recharge canal
to divert water from the Uma-
tilla River.
In 2003, Washington state
established its permitting pro-
cess for injecting surface wa-
ter into the aquifer, usually
through owners’ wells, in ex-
change for a water right simi-
lar to reservoir storage.
Washington cities such as
Walla Walla, Kennewick and
Seattle currently recharge wa-
ter, and other cities are explor-
ing the option. In northcentral
Washington’s Douglas Coun-
ty, the state has led a project
near the Columbia River to
determine if the area is well
suited for storing groundwater.
Wells are being dug to charac-
terize that aquifer.
“It’s an area where not a
whole lot of water use is going
on and potentially there’s a lot
of storage underground,” said
Dave Nazy, a hydrogeologist
with the Washington State De-
partment of Ecology’s Office
of Columbia River.
Nazy said the project would
accommodate several uses, in-
cluding agriculture.
In Idaho, the state recently
committed to average 250,000
acre-feet of recharge per year
within the Eastern Snake Plain
Aquifer as part of an aqui-
fer-stabilization agreement to
potentially resolve a water call
between groundwater and sur-
face water irrigators.
The state holds a 1,200 cu-
bic feet per second water right
with a 1980 priority date for
managed aquifer recharge.
Idaho Department of Water
Resources Planning Bureau
Chief Brian Patton explained
the state had been conducting
recharge on “pilot-scale mode”
and commenced with its first
full-scale effort last winter and
spring. Partnering with canal
companies and irrigation dis-
tricts willing to run recharge
water in their systems in ex-
change for state payments, the
state recharged 75,000 acre-
feet below Milner Dam this
winter and proved the feasi-
bility of winter recharge. Pat-
ton said there’s ample room to
expand the project, as another
320,000 acre-feet that could
be recharged under the state’s
right was allowed to pass be-
low Milner Dam unutilized.
The state recharged another
17,000 acre-feet in February
above American Falls Reser-
voir, utilizing flood-control
releases from reservoirs.
The Legislature has allocat-
ed $5 million annually toward
aquifer stabilization, with the
Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer
as the priority. Funding will be
used to build new infrastruc-
ture for conducting recharge,
with work on shovel-ready
projects commencing this fall.
Patton’s projections show
the state has a lot of work
ahead to hit the 250,000-acre-
foot goal. By 2019, he predicts
sufficient infrastructure will be
in place to recharge 200,000
acre-feet. The state is poised to
hit 250,000 acre-feet by 2025,
Patton said.