BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A group of property owners organized to fight the Arnold Irrigation District's plans to pipe its 12-mile canal have filed suit in federal court against the district and the federal agency that authorized the project, claiming it violates several federal laws.
Here's their full news release, issued Friday, and the irrigation district's statement in response, as well as an update on a ruling in a similar lawsuit filed against the Tumalo Irrigation District:
GROUP OF ARNOLD IRRIGATION RESIDENTS AND PATRONS SEEK RELIEF, ASK JUDGE FOR A REVIEW OF FEDERAL AGENCY ACTION
BEND, OR - A group of concerned property owners and patrons of the Arnold Irrigation District (AID) have formally sued the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and AID in federal court for authorizing a new modernization project along a historic 12-mile canal in Deschutes County, alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
The group, known as Save Arnold Canal, have been seeking a more collaborative solution to the water conservation challenges of AID since the project was revealed. Solutions that would benefit critical habitat of the upper Deschutes, farmers of North Unit Irrigation District as well as the residents, vegetation, landscape, and wildlife along the main canal corridor.
The group says the ‘modernization’ project expressly eliminated viable alternatives to piping along the canal. They are asking the court to review the NRCS Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for compliance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The group says AID inflated the costs of other alternatives to piping or simply refused to do a full and proper examination of them. Water-market-based solutions and non-membrane concrete lining are the two most-effective and least-expensive ways to solve the most problems with the fewest costs, quickly, and yet they remain the two alternatives that AID and the NRCS ignored.
Save Arnold Canal (SAC) is a local organization comprised of over 200 members and supporters who have been arguing against a pipeline as the only viable solution for modernization and have advocated for other alternatives for the past four years through a variety of different channels. Despite numerous public comments and discussions, the group feels it has been repeatedly denied a legitimate stakeholder’s voice in this matter.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that Arnold Irrigation District and the NRCS take a “hard look” at the impacts the project would have on both the human and natural environment as well as fully explore viable alternative solutions. In the Environmental Assessment for the project, a document that is far less comprehensive than a full Environmental Impact Statement and was approved by the NRCS, the group says none of that has happened. The action filed today is asking a judge to require that the NRCS and AID to simply comply with the law.
The issues that concern the Committee that the group feels have been ignored throughout the entire process:
- The pipeline’s construction and subsequent eradication of all seepage will kill thousands of mature ponderosa pine trees.
- The eradication of all seepage will eliminate the seasonal recharge of shallow aquifers and negatively affect over 300 groundwater wells along the canal corridor.
- The pipeline will destroy 12-miles of established seasonal riparian habitat as well as a wildlife water source and travel corridor.
- The pipeline installed on private property is more intrusive than allowed by law, and will cause damage to over 430 landowners, reducing property values by up to 20%, by NRCS’s own admission.
- AID acknowledges that the 40-feet of elevation drop from top to bottom of the canal will not allow for hydroelectric power generation, but they cannot substantiate their claims of a pipeline’s pressurized irrigation water delivery system.
Save Arnold Canal is a non-profit organization formed by concerned property owners in Deschutes County with the goal of seeking mutually beneficial alternatives to the Arnold Irrigation District’s massive modernization project. The group includes over 200 members and supporters and growing. For more information including public comments submitted, maps, documentation, and videos see Save Arnold Canal.
Arnold Irrigation District's response:
The District perspective: The Main Canal project is a water conservation project that the District needs to become drought-resilient and not have to turn off in the middle of the summer, as we have had to the past three years.
We have always wanted the most water-efficient, cost-effective project method based on its useful life to be the method implemented, and we have consistently involved the public and patrons since 2018, including several public meetings and an extended public comment period.
Over the past four years, the process has followed all governing laws, regulations and requirements and working with the NRCS the determination was made that piping was the best alternative. All of the issues raised in opposition to the piping project have been fully addressed in the Final Watershed Plan and Environmental Assessment.
So now, instead of focusing on getting the project going for water conservation and addressing the requirements of the Habitat Conservation Plan, our patrons and taxpayers will now have to spend thousands of dollars on legal fees because of people that want to save their backyard water feature.
Similar issues are under review in a lawsuit involving the Tumalo Irrigation District’s piping plans. Last week, a federal court in Eugene ruled that the irrigation district can legally place pipe within its 1894 Carey Act easements, which include burying the pipe below the bottom of the canal.
Chris Schull, the Tumalo district’s manager, said that ruling was only on the district’s partial summary judgment. Still outstanding is the part of the lawsuit involving the NRCS and NEPA federal environmental process.
Here's the lawsuit filed by the Arnold Irrigation canal opponents: