Oregon granted $6.6 million in funding for water projects

(UC) — The Oregon Water Resources Control Board awarded $6.6 million to two irrigation efficiency projects, an aquifer recharge plan, and additional funding for a grant that had already been authorized, the Capital Press reported.

The state's Water Resources Commission, however, declined to support an irrigation automation proposal because it didn't receive enough points for its social and environmental advantages.

The relatively small number of qualified applicants and that rejection raised concerns about whether Oregon's water supply grant program was too restrictive or lacked sufficient decision-making latitude.

Joe Moll, commissioner and executive director of the McKenzie River Trust, told the newspaper organization that four candidates were the only ones vying for the millions of dollars in grants that were available, while others chose not to apply for money because they didn't meet the requirements.

The commissioner praised the state's "triple bottom line" method of assessing the grant bids' economic, social, and environmental effects.

Projects that perform better on one metric than the others, though, might be given some wiggle room, according to Moll.

April Snell, executive director of the Oregon Water Resources Commission, said that at least three irrigation districts have been prevented from submitting grant applications because they failed to update their voluntary water management plans from prior years.

Since irrigation districts are less likely to undergo change than cities, critics argue that such plans are expensive and time-consuming to update even when changes are not required.

Irrigation districts are not compelled to revise such plans if they are never created in the first place. The grant regulations, according to critics, essentially deter irrigation districts from implementing such schemes.

Despite this, the commission voted unanimously to approve three water projects for grant funding during its Nov. 17 quarterly meeting:

  • The Tumalo Irrigation Districted in Deschutes County was awarded $2 million toward an $8.7 million phase of replacing about 11 miles of open canals with pipes.
  • The East Fork Irrigation District in Hood River County was awarded $823,000 toward an $1.9 million project that will upgrade pipes and other equipment.
  • The City of Stayton was awarded $3.8 million toward an aquifer storage and recovery project that’s expected to cost $5 million. The money will pay for permitting, design and construction of a system that will inject treated water into an underground basalt aquifer, providing a backup drinking water source during low summer flows.

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