6 CapitalPress.com July 24, 2015 Finding new water, and places to store it, a difficult process By ERIC MORTENSON Capital Press SILVERTON, Ore. — The 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 process. 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- riculture. 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 District. 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 irrigation. 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- port. 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 concludes. 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 farmland. 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 friends. 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- cult. 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 By JOHN O’CONNELL 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 said. “This is not the first drought that the state has lived through,” Izbicki said. “The whole state water project is a response to W2’15-4/#4X 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 Department’s groundwater 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 W2’15-4/#04X W2’15-4/#6 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.