Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Klamath County's Horsefly Irrigation District - Long Term Returns
by Erika Bentsen Norris, The Ag Magazine, June 9, 2021
Since 1906, Horsefly Irrigation District (HID) has served Bonanza, Oregon with 25 miles of canals delivering water to roughly 11,600 irrigated acres of farm ground and pastures. Considered one of the drier watersheds around Klamath county, Horsefly and its counterpart, Langell Valley Irrigation District, work closely together to conserve water for future years.
"Our reservoirs take years to refill after a dry spell," says Justin Eary, District Manager of HID, "so we work to keep extra water behind the dams to ensure carryover for those dry years." Focusing on water conservation, Horsefly has been implementing canal pipe conversions for the last 20 years.
"In the beginning, it was just to fix the really bad spots," Justin explains. "In 2007, the district started to focus more on improvements and since 2014, we have really pushed to make more of our canals into pipelines. We experience a 40 percent transmission loss by running water through open canals. That means we have to pump 3.25 to 3.5 acre feet to deliver 2 acre feet of water to our patrons. The terrain is broken basalt, which is good for underground water storage, but not good for transporting water long distances. These canals leaked so much there were tules growing in the fields below them. Many places needed drainage ditches just to get the excess water away from their crops."
In just one example, Justin points out a section of piped canal. "That pipe runs for 2˝ miles from the pumping station. The water will get here in one hour and forty minutes." He turns and points to the open ditch beyond. "This section we haven't piped yet is only 3,800 feet. From here, it takes the water 4 hours to get to the end of the ditch. You don't have to pump as much water when you don't have to saturate the soil in the canal."
At first, HID would pipe a section of canal that subbed badly, flooding out the landowner below the canal. However, in the last few years the district became aware of how much water was also being lost due to evaporation. "OIT [Oregon Institute of Technology, Klamath Falls, Oregon] studied how flows were affected by air pressure, temperature and wind," Justin says. "You can almost watch the water evaporate from the canal on a hot afternoon with the wind blowing." Horsefly is working with an engineer to make a System Improvement Plan to modernize the district to conserve more water and better serve its patrons.
"It's not just water loss, there are other costs involved. Before the 2006 power rate jump, our patrons collectively paid about $12,000 per year for pumping costs. Last year alone was close to $250,000. If we don't have to pump as much water, that's a huge saving. We used to spend money on chemicals and kept an excavator running all summer to remove moss and algae from the ditches, plus two ditch riders worked throughout the season to clean the trash racks to keep debris from clogging culverts. Now with the pipe we don't have to."
Currently, 13 miles—about half of the canal system—is piped. Justin calculates this already saves 8 – 10 thousand acre feet of water per year. Improvements are funded with a 50-50 cost share through the Bureau of Reclamation's WaterSMART grants.
"We are a private district so we own our system. These grants make it possible to do something like this. I think more landowners should look into what programs are out there to see how they can apply something similar on their land." Although, Justin notes, the savings in power, labor and water can quickly pay for themselves.
"Several of our patrons have made improvements to their irrigation systems, which we encourage, but don't require. I can think of 25 new pivots installed in the last ten years. If you take the amount of water needed for flood irrigation, to upgrade to wheel lines it is 25 percent more efficient, but the power costs go up. But pivots are 20 percent more efficient than wheel lines and the power needs are much less. To transfer from flood to pivot can save a patron 45 percent in water use."
HID has to plan their water needs two - three years ahead. "We are constantly trying to come up with new ways to make water go further and to keep water in the lakes for future use," Justin says. "Like anything man makes, there is almost always a need to refine and adjust our projects. We are stewards of a valuable resource that needs to be managed in a way that ensures water for future generations. Those who built this system were way ahead of their time, but with the technology that we have available to us now, we can make improvements that will have long term returns to everyone."
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Page Updated: Tuesday June 15, 2021 12:25 PM Pacific
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