State irrigation program receives national conservation award

Wallowa County Chieftain

Published on June 28, 2016 4:13PM

PORTLAND — Energy Trust of Oregon and Farmers Conservation Alliance (FCA) recently announced that their Irrigation Modernization Program received the 2016 State Leadership in Clean Energy Award given by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA).

The national award recognizes the coordinated and comprehensive approach developed by Energy Trust and FCA to help irrigation districts and the farmers they serve develop modern irrigation systems that can save billions of gallons of water annually. Oregon irrigators rely on 100-year-old, open-irrigation canals, which typically draw water from nearby rivers and other water sources. This method of irrigation results in a large amount of water evaporating and/or leaking from the canal before reaching agricultural crops.

The Irrigation Modernization Program helps irrigation districts find the funding and resources they need to create state-of-the-art irrigation systems that replace open canals with pipes, saving water and leaving more water in-stream for fish and wildlife. Pressurized pipes allow irrigators to remove pumps, which saves electricity, maintenance and replacement costs and enables farmers to upgrade to more water-efficient irrigation systems. Excess pressure in water on its way to delivery on farm can also be used to generate hydropower.

“The work done by the Farmers Conservation Alliance is a powerful example of how irrigation modernization can address multiple challenges and provide multiple benefits,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley. “The potential exists over the next decade for irrigation districts across the state to upgrade to more modern infrastructure, saving water, restoring streams and generating green, renewable energy. These investments in irrigation systems are also investments in the future resiliency, competitiveness and livability of Oregon’s rural economies.”

By working with 12 districts together to plan these systems, FCA and Energy Trust offer economies of scale for projects that districts could not implement individually. This includes reducing the cost and time required for project planning and implementation, addressing key regulatory and institutional barriers, leveraging funding sources, and demonstrating how modern agricultural water management can mitigate the impacts of long-term drought.

“This well-earned national award reaffirms what we in Oregon have long known — our state is all about figuring out creative solutions that benefit both the environment and the economy,” said Sen. Ron Wyden. “Both Energy Trust of Oregon and Farmers Conservation Alliance deserve huge praise for pioneering an approach that creates such significant gains for irrigation districts and taxpayers.”

These water preservation and energy-saving efforts are especially helpful in 2016, as Oregon’s snowpack is diminishing quickly in the unseasonably early hot weather, suggesting another lean irrigation year for Oregon farmers.

“As Oregon summers become hotter much earlier and pressure on our water supplies increases, improving our irrigation systems is more critical than ever,” said Julie Davies O’Shea, executive director, FCA. “Irrigation modernization creates a virtuous cycle. As districts begin improving their systems and saving on costs, they can then re-invest the money they’ve saved into additional projects.”

The 12 districts implementing irrigation modernization through the program are:

• Arnold Irrigation District in Bend

• Central Oregon Irrigation District in Redmond

• East Fork Irrigation District in Hood River

• Hudson Bay District Improvement Company in Milton-Freewater

• Lone Pine Irrigation District in Terrebonne

North Prairie Creek Ditch in Enterprise

• North Unit Irrigation District in Madras

• Ochoco Irrigation District in Prineville

• Swalley Irrigation District in Bend

• Three Sisters Irrigation District in Sisters

• Tumalo Irrigation District in Tumalo

Westside Ditch in Lostine

All are expected to complete assessments by early 2017. A case study with more information about the Irrigation Modernization Program is available on CESA’s website at

Energy Trust of Oregon is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping utility customers benefit from saving energy and generating renewable power. The agency’s services, cash incentives and energy solutions have helped participating customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural and Cascade Natural Gas save more than $2.3 billion on energy bills.

To learn more, visit or contact Eastern Oregon Outreach Manager Susan Badger-Jones at or 1-866-368-7878.


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