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Deschutes Soil and Water Conservation District seeks to help farmers cut down on water loss

Water-saving efforts to help landowners, wildlife and rivers

(Update: Adding video, comments from DSWCD District Manager, Erin Kilcullen)

REDMOND, Ore (KTVZ) -- The Deschutes Soil and Water Conservation District, Deschutes River Conservancy and Central Oregon Irrigation District are partnering to implement water-saving projects around Deschutes County.

“Central Oregon is growing, it’s going to continue to grow, and we have been in a drought, in a declared drought for three years. Water is a big necessity to our local economy," DSWCD District Manager Erin Kilcullen said Monday.

Last August, county commissioners approved $1.45 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for on-farm efficiency water conservation by the three entities, most of which was directed to water conservation for private landowners along COID's Smith Rock-King Way canal-piping project. The rest is being made available to private landowners elsewhere in the county.

The portion allotted to the soil and water conservation district will fund the On-Farm Efficiency Water Conservation Investment Program.

The objective of the program is to accelerate existing water conservation efforts in Deschutes County by improving on-farm irrigation conveyance systems, upgrading farms' infrastructure from flood to sprinkler irrigation, and
improve landowners’ knowledge and skills in managing irrigation water on their farm.

The district manager points out that one big problem is farmers relying on flood irrigation, which floods property and crops, leading to substantial waste of irrigation water.

“Our goal is to switch that flood irrigation to sprinkler irrigation," Kilcullen said. "A lot of that water that they’re flooding, it will run off of their property. For some properties, their water runs into local waterways, and so we’re trying to make these more efficient.”

Between sprinkler systems and large canals being piped over time, landowners will eventually need to use less water.

“So if you’re using less water, you, over time, won’t need your full water right," Kilcullen said. "That water can be conserved back in storage, or it can be sent to farmers up in North Unit Irrigation District,” where Jefferson County farmers have been hit hard by recent drought conditions and low reservoir levels due to its junior water rights.

Priority for the funding is dependent on how much water the landowner will be saving through the upgraded system.

"For each project we'll be funding up to $20,000, or 75% of the total system cost for each landowner," Kilcullen said. "We're trying to make it equitable and fair for landowners throughout Deschutes County."

Twenty percent of the funding will be made available to irrigators throughout Deschutes County and in the other irrigation districts. The funding will be provided on a cost-share basis to assist landowners in converting from flood to sprinkler irrigation, or to implement other water conservation savings activities. Investments of up to $15,000 per landowner would be made, with a 1:1 landowner cost-share.

Deschutes County landowners have until Feb. 11 to submit their applications for funding.

Applications can be submitted by e-mail to with the subject line "ARPA application" or by mail at:

Deschutes Soil and Water Conservation District
625 SE Salmon Ave.
Redmond, OR. 97756

The following lists the criteria for eligibility:

• A landowner in Deschutes County
• Have an irrigation water right on the property that will be enrolled
• Must produce hay/forage or other agricultural crops, or raise agricultural livestock
• Must be the landowner or has decision making authority for the property being enrolled
• Property being enrolled must be outside of the Smith Rock Regional Conservation Partnership
Priority (RCPP) area

Project that are ineligible for the program are:
• Pond lining (unless it is part of the irrigation upgrade project)
• Pond or Cistern (unless it is part of the irrigation upgrade project)
• Pump installation (unless it is part of the irrigation upgrade project)
• Do not have a water right on the property that will be enrolled
• Irrigation water used for lawns

High priority will be given to projects that convert flood to sprinkler irrigation, reduce off site impacts to
water bodies such as streams, rivers, or irrigation canals, reduce water loss in conveyance systems.
Limited funding is available.

Author Profile Photo

Bola Gbadebo

Bola Gbadebo is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Bola here.



    1. They have been farming successfully in this region long before you got here. Generations actually. You likely wouldn’t be here if this desert hadn’t been developed through irrigation and agriculture. Why do some folks want to destroy everything they see?

    2. This is for agricultural producers whose production of locally accessible food crops that reduce carbon emissions from vehicles bro find those same products from other areas. A smarter way to conserve water in a desert is to ban hemp production and remove large scale data centers that are taking considerable water from family farms in the desert.

      1. Maybe you missed it, but the hemp scene in our county imploded 2 years ago, few are growing it anymore. Hemp uses drip irrigation which reduces water usage tremendously. Hemp is a non-issue, I’m assuming its a personal bias. Also, show me where you get that info about our local data centers?

  1. I know COID wants to take my share if I don’t water and mow my weeds each year. From what I understand, I have the right to let them have the water with no penalty this year if I pay full price to not use it.

    1. The irrigation district wants you to do something productive with your water or let someone else use it. Or let the fish have it. If all you are going to grow is weeds, why do you need water? Lease out the pasture, and let someone else get some benefit from it. They will grow something useful.

    2. COID requires you to irrigate full acerage the 1st year, and every 5th year thereafter. There is no requirement to water and mow annually. If you choose not to use water, you can do an Instream Lease for the season which maintains your rights but gives the water back to the River.

  2. As pointed out, we’re already a few years into a major drought, and it’s going to continue into the foreseeable future. It could snow three feet between now and April and it wouldn’t do anything for our water supply, surface or groundwater. We need to address the water supply statewide as well as locally/districtwide. A comprehensive review of water rights, water supply, and water use is necessary, as well as moving away from water hungry crops and farming/ranching practices. And, yes, green lawns, golf courses, and swimming pools too. Buckle up folks, we’re in for a long, hot, and dusty ride.

    1. That all sounds great, but with such resistance to change in and around this county, and so few willing to actually give up anything, the fact is that we are all going to run out of water soon. Either ground water or irrigation water. It is unclear how much irrigation water is ending up in the aquifers, so if we continue to see shorter irrigation seasons in our drier regions it is hypothetically possible aquifers will in turn not replenish quickly… add in drought, and the continued population growth, you see where this is going.

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