SISTERS — Marc Thalacker is living the pipeline dream, and he believes others can, too.
At least when it comes to converting canal irrigation systems to pipeline water delivery.
Thalacker, manager of Three Sisters Irrigation District, will complete piping of canals in the Sisters irrigation district in 2019, and some irrigation districts in the Klamath Project are studying his example.
Thalacker piped the majority of its water delivery using the same model as seen in Hood River. Thalacker lead Klamath Project irrigation leaders and representatives around TSID last week to give a taste of what Sisters has done, is doing, and to show what Klamath Basin irrigation representatives can do for their districts.
Among those in attendance were Mark Johnson, deputy director of the Klamath Water Users Association and representatives from Tulelake and Enterprise Irrigation Districts. Farmer’s Conservation Alliance (FCA) officials joined in to share how the conservation agency is helping districts like Klamath Falls consider the method for themselves.
Modeled after the delivery system first instituted in Hood River, TSID has since 2004 piped more than 60 percent of its irrigation water via pipeline to 7,000 acres of irrigated farmland, accordin to information provided by the district. The district has also conserved 24 cubic feet per second (cfs) of instream flow in Whycus Creek, which flows from Three Sisters and Broken Top mountains.
To date, the district sends water through 50 of its 63 miles of open canals, according to information provided by the district, and delivers water to 75 farms. Through this method, the district has cut out the need for irrigation pumps and has saved 5 million Kilowatt hours of electricity per year, according to Energy Trust of Oregon.
In 2019, TSID is slated to finish piping of all 64 miles of canals will be complete, which he said is saving farmers in Sisters upwards of 25 percent of their irrigation water. When done, Thalacker estimates a protection of 34 cubic feet per second.
“It’s actually doable, and that brings peace in the valley,” Thalacker said.
“You can show that you are able to improve the situation as opposed to make it worse.”
Also near completion are three small hydroplants generating about 1 million Kilowatt hours a year, Thalacker said.
“The big carrot’s been the 9 Kilowatt hours of eliminated pumping that the farmers were able to get rid of,” Thalacker said. “And so, of the 194 farms we were able to eliminate 193 of the 194 pumping stations. We’ve basically taken half of the conserved water and put in the stream.”
TSID only uses High Density Polyethylene pipe to channel water, top of the line for their durability.
“You can freeze this pipe solid, it’s going to last 100 to 1,000 years,” Thalacker said. “Once it’s buried, it’s pretty much bulletproof.”
Klamath Irrigation District has contracted with Farmers Conservation Alliance for a free feasability analysis to see what a similar pipe delivery system could look like for canals in the Klamath Project.
FCA is a nonprofit based out of Hood River, and works with the federal government to help fund infrastructure for agriculture.
Jerry Enman, a member of the KID board, hasn’t seen the Sisters delivery system but is interested in seeing efficiencies at the district.
“Farmer’s Conservation Alliance is trying to see whether more districts in the Klamath Project are interested in having them work on it all at once,” Enman said on Wednesday.
No timeline for the analysis is currently available to the H&N, but FCA may visit the Project in February, according to Enman. Enman said FCA representatives may want to talk with area districts interested in contracting with the agency to also conduct a feasability analysis.
“That will include cost estimates and cost benefit analysis, and also they help figure out whether funding might be available,” Enman said, noting the possibilities of cost-sharing opportunities.
“That will be what we have in front of us to make decisions, basically,” Enman added.
“The No. 1 thing we would be looking for is water conservation … one of our losses is to evaporation out of the canals, and another of the losses is to seepage. And their analysis will tell us in particular where the most seepage is occurring so we might potentially decide that there’s some areas that it might be more important to (pipe)line than others.”
Enman emphasized that KID is only studying idea of pipelining a portion or all of its canal system, and that no analysis is yet underway.
“The reason we signed the contract was to find out more about it,” Enman said.
“... Find our whether it’s even something we can think of doing, whether we’re dreaming beyond our means or not.”
When asked how viable it would be to convert canals in the Klamath Project to a pipe delivery system, Thalacker said: “By piping we can get rid of aquatic herbicides and really improve delivery. If we’re able to eliminate the pumping costs with the net meter solar arrays, then I think we can have a winner for everybody.”
Thalacker said it can take two to three years for a district to develop plans for implementing such a system, which include a system improvement plan, a watershed plan, an environmental assessment for each irrigation district.
“Obviously the smaller districts will be easier, and in some cases, I think doing some of the smaller districts will be helpful because then that gives everybody examples, hope, things to hang their hat on, and really get things rolling,” Thalacker said.
FCA executive director Julie Davies O’Shea attended the tour and described the organization’s role.
“We’d meet with irrigators who wanted to modernize and they were looking at various options but they weren’t able to get funding and the partnerships built,” said Davies O’Shea.
“A lot of it came down to capacity,” she added.
Irrigation districts with five or less employees, it was nearly impossible to devote time and resources to piping.
“People don’t think about ag infrastructure very often and yet this is how you create ag security and productivity,” Davies O’Shea said.
“The more exposure we can get, we can encourage more young people to come into ag and to work on resource issues and to think about infrastructure and create that value.”
Mike Beeson, a longtime board member for Enterprise Irrigation District, also attended the tour, and praised the efforts in Sisters and current efforts to study pipeline delivery in the Project.
Enterprise has already implemented piping of much of its system with the help of grant funding.
“It’s really innovative what’s been done,” Beeson said.