The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board approved $325,666 Oct. 19 for Phase II of a project that is improving water quality in the Wallowa River to benefit native salmon and steelhead.
“The North Prairie Creek project is a win-win for salmon, water and working lands,” said Cynthia Warnock, district manager for the Wallowa Soil and Water Conservation District, the applicant for the grant.
This project is located northeast of Enterprise. Irrigators currently divert water from the Wallowa River into the Farmers Ditch, which carries water to farms across 18.7 miles before spilling into North Prairie Creek.
The spilled water, known as tailwater, flows through Prairie Creek before entering the Wallowa River. The open ditch captures agricultural runoff and flow in the ditch erodes ditch banks.
Both the runoff and the sediment reduce the quality of the tailwater in Prairie Creek and the Wallowa River. This tailwater contributes to Prairie Creek and the Wallowa River being included on Oregon’s 303(d) list of water quality-impaired waterways.
To improve water quality for steelhead and Chinook populations in the Wallowa River and Prairie Creek, local landowners are collaborating with Wallowa SWCD, Wallowa Lake Irrigation District and U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service to convert ditch irrigation to a pipe for 2,000 acres of farmland.
The result will be no runoff or sediment in the tailwater.
Farmers will no longer need to pump their irrigation water out of the ditch; gravity will now provide 99 percent of the pressure needed to deliver the water to their farms.
Farmers are expected to save more than $100,000 per year in pumping costs, according to estimates by landowner Jesse Miller.
“The project is going to be huge for the farmers involved,” Miller said. “Ninety-nine percent of the ground that this pipeline is serving is going to be full gravity pressure instead of pumping on roughly 2,000 acres. This is a huge financial benefit to farmers, not having a pump bill.”
In addition, farmers will no longer have to maintain the pumps or the screens associated with the pumps.
Miller also praised Natural Resources Conservation Service for its help with the project.
“NRCS has been the main instrumental agency in getting this done. They don’t get a lot of positive feedback, and I want them to. Without NRCS, this thing would not happen,” Miller said.
Wallowa Soil and Water Conservation District develops, manages and directs natural resource programs within county boundaries working in both urban and rural settings
Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board is a state agency that provides grants to help Oregonians take care of local streams, rivers, wetlands and natural areas. Community members and landowners use scientific criteria to decide jointly what needs to be done to conserve and improve rivers and natural habitat in the places where they live.
OWEB grants are funded from the Oregon Lottery, federal dollars and salmon license plate revenue.