New designation makes it eligible for funds to repair dam
By Kathleen Ellyn
Wallowa County Chieftain
Wallowa County Commissioners enthusiastically approved the work of the Associated Ditch Company at a special hearing April 17 as it moved toward consolidation as the Wallowa Lake Irrigation District.
The ditch company is comprised of five irrigation ditch companies named after the major ditches: Dobbin, Big Bend, Farmers, Silver Lake and Creighton.
Each ditch company has a president, a board and paid secretary. The presidents of those companies sit on the board of Associated –– that’s how it has worked for 100 years.
A committee established in March 2016 to investigate modernization and funding sought the advice of Nate James, Natural Resources Conservation Service agent with Wallowa Resources. Through James they were put in touch with Farmers Conservation Alliance and learned that if they reformed the five companies into a water district, they would be eligible for state funding and grants that might cover the cost of repair or replacement of the 100-year-old Wallowa Lake Dam south of Joseph.
They came before the county commissioners April 17 to reveal the new water district and confirm proper boundaries had been established, that the requisite number of owners of land had signed the petition to fold the five ditch companies into the new district; that Wallowa Valley Improvement District had agreed to an overlap of boundaries and that plans had been announced in the newspaper of record twice (March 22 and April 2).
The commissioners approved an order calling for the formation of the district and further approved the group moving forward with a vote of the entire membership.
“We had meetings to explain it, and we felt like we got a good feel of response,” said Associated Ditch President Dan Butterfield. “We figure we talked to at least 100 of the people who are here in the winter. We did not run into a single person who was against us.”
Ditch Master David Bates called the move “pretty monumental.”
“It’s likely been a while since this has been done in Oregon,” he said.
The irrigation district will be composed of five newly drawn subdivisions with a director of the district coming from each subdivision. The five separate ditch companies will then dissolve.
The new divisions have been carefully drawn out so that each has –– as near as possible –– the same acreage under irrigation, Butterfield said.
A contingent of farmers, all of whom had fathers or grandfathers or both who served as presidents of ditch companies in past years, attended the commissioners meeting to answer questions for the commissioners and show their support for the district plan.
Repair of the dam has been a crucial consideration for years and along with avenues for funding. Last year the company realized augmentation (to be able to allow the water to flow downstream and sell it) as a means of raising the approximately $15 million required repairing the dam, which would allow self-funding, said Joe Dawson, president of Dobbin Ditch Company and a member of the Associated modernization committee.
A new study of what will be required to repair the dam, and fresh estimates of cost are in the works, according to Dawson. Associated has hired former Enterprise resident and engineer Mort McMillen at McMillen Jacobs Associates Inc., water resources and hydrology specialists from Boise, Idaho.
The lake storage has been held to 72 percent capacity for almost 40 years.
“We’ve had to restrict water use several times because we were unable to store enough water,” Butterfield said.
Dawson assured the commissioners that incorporating pipelines in the modernization will not affect the major ditches of Dobbin, Big Bend, Farmers, Silver Lake or Creighton.
Any pipelines are a result of farmers noticing large inefficiencies within the systems and getting together and proposing them, he said.
“Those changes came from the farmers up, not from ADC down,” said Dawson. “These were pipelines being proposed by groups of farmers working together to make their systems more efficient and eliminate loss.”
Commissioner Todd Nash, a rancher, said he thought the decision to consolidate into a district was “a good tack.”
Commissioner Susan Roberts praised the group. “They’re working in today’s climate with today’s technology. I think it’s great,” Roberts said. “If what you’re doing turns out well, it can be replicated in other places that need to come up to the 2017 era.”