Federal authorities will soon be sharing preliminary findings of a water study of Oregon’s Upper Deschutes Basin with landowners and other affected parties.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and regional partners will use the input to complete their analysis of water management in the basin, whose water supply demands are eventually expected to exceed supplies by 230,000 acre-feet a year.
One component of the report, which is due in mid-2018, will examine the feasibility of expanding water storage in the region.
The possibilities being studied include raising an existing dam to expand the Haystack Reservoir south of Madras, Ore., or building a new upstream facility.
The study is also looking at creating a new “Monner” reservoir east of Madras or restoring storage in the Prineville reservoir that’s been lost to sedimentation.
Water conservation and water transfers are also being examined in the study, said Mike Relf, project manager with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Pacific Northwest regional office.
“Storage is just one part of the basin study,” Relf said.
The goal is to lay out the benefits and challenges of potential storage options, rather than make any recommendations, he said.
“The idea is not to promote any particular idea,” Relf said.
Building or expanding water reservoirs would entail environmental studies and funding processes that would likely require decades to complete, he said. “Storage would by far be the longest-term idea out there.”
It’s worthwhile to take a closer look at storage possibility, the likelihood of actually starting construction is a long shot, said Mike Britton, general manager of the North Unit Irrigation District, which is one of the partners participating in the $1.5 million study.
Aside from bureaucratic and financial hurdles, storage projects are often unrealistic because they’d flood existing infrastructure, such as gas pipelines and power transmission lines, he said.
“Those types of obstacles are potential deal stoppers,” Britton said.
California, for example, has a long list of potential storage options that haven’t been built for decades, he said. “I doubt we’d be that much different here, unfortunately.”
The prospect of expanding the Haystack Reservoir, however, is making at least one landowner nervous.
Kenny Reed, who owns a ranch abutting the reservoir, worries an expansion would disrupt habitat for bald eagles that he’s conserving under an agreement with the federal government.
Reed has expressed his concerns to the Bureau of Reclamation, which has acknowledged there’s a conservation plan for the area.
“The entire ranch is designated as bald eagle habitat,” Reed said. “We didn’t go through a 20-year process to say it doesn’t matter anymore.”