Skip to Content

Lake Billy Chinook eyed as possible solution to Jefferson County farmers’ water crisis

(Update: Adding video, comments from North Unit Irrigation Unit executive manager)

In spite of significant cost, irrigation district official says benefits worth it

CULVER, Ore. (KTVZ) -- After several years of continual drought, it's getting more and more difficult for Jefferson County farmers to harvest their crops. The North Unit Irrigation District believes it has a feasible, though pricey way to solve the water crisis: pumping water from Lake Billy Chinook.

Irrigation district Executive Manager Mike Britton said Monday the proposal would have water drawn from the lake from April 1 to Oct. 31, based on demand.

"This year, North Unit ran out of water in August," Britton said. "Our main source of water, Wickiup Reservoir, is basically dry."

Over the years, Britton said water allocation has lowered to "0.8 acre-feet per acre for Deschutes River lands and 0.4 acre-feet per acre for Crooked River lands," making times especially challenging for farmers. Prior to the drought, Britton, said Deschutes River farmers received "2 acre-feet per acre, while Crooked River farmers received 1 acre-feet per acre."

"What happens is, people have to dry up other portions of their farm, bundle their water and put it on one part of their farm to be able to get a crop to harvest," Britton said.

By pumping water from Lake Billy Chinook, Britton said it is not only a sustainable source for farmers, but provides ecological environmental benefits in the Crooked and Deschutes rivers.

"Which means it can provide better water for fish and wildlife habitat, can improve water quality, and it can improve water temperatures. There's a wide range of benefits that we believe can come along with this project," Britton said.

In spite of the high cost to get the project in motion, he said the benefits would far exceed any drawbacks. Funding is their biggest hurdle.

"Initial estimates have it around $400 million to $500 million. The ongoing operations and maintenance will be another several million dollars a year to operate," Britton said.

Due to the scale of the project, Britton said it would need federal funding -- and to keep it going, the beneficiaries of the project also would need to contribute.

He said it's important to note that they would not be pumping additional water to their existing 200 cubic feet per second (cfs) water rights on the Crooked River.

Britton said the amount of water pumped from the lake would hardly be discernible, so it should not be a deterrent for those who visit the popular scenic and boating destination.

Author Profile Photo

Bola Gbadebo

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



  1. I would be ok with this if the farmers would stop allowing their Fertilizer rich irrigation “run-off” go into the lake and continue to cause more algae. Could have helped themselves if they reused that water and would have prevented the lake being thick with algae.

      1. I talked w manager of NUID. He states farmers above LBC have run-off that goes into CR…LBC.
        He states they are contributing to algae in LBC…along with farmers dumping into LBC. A “retention ” program next year will stop a lot of the CR contamination.

    1. You need to take that up with the state. The farmer would be more than happy to use or reuse any water that goes by them, especially the last guy on the ditch. Major repurcussions for trying to do so.

      As for algae blooms you need to study up on the ages of lakes/ponds – is part of lifecycle of any lake or pond.

    1. The reservoirs are drained due to many factors. Drought. The spotted frog. The reservoirs were fine for years before the spotted frog ruling came about. That travesty, combined with historic drought has us here.

  2. Funny, every time this issue comes up. No one ever mentions the amount of water that is wasted between the reservoir and Jefferson County Farmers by those in Bend and Redmond whose flood irrigating practices waste the most amount of water. People flood their pastures so their one cow or horse can have acres of green grass (mostly weeds) but yet those growing food for your tables are cut off in August. Seems about right!

    1. Do you even know what you are talking about? I haven’t seen anyone in the Bend/Redmond area using flood irrigation. I will agree however that much can be done for more efficient use of irrigation water to farmers. Just no government officials want to get into doing that because it’s a difficult thing to do and would likely require grants to farmers to change their irrigation practices.

      1. Do you know what you are talking about? Drive down the old bend Redmond highway. Or the west side of Redmond. Lots of flood irrigation. Look for large puddles of standing water.

      1. Cmon, you can do it…. Think one step further…….carrot seeds turn into ….wait for it……carrots! Hay turns into…….beef! No one eats those things right? Those things should be off limits because you don’t eat them, therefore others shouldn’t either right? Your food comes from the store, so it doesn’t need any water.

        I suppose you could dine on spotted frogs.

  3. No, they don’t need to take water from Lake Bill Chinook. We’re in a drought. We don’t seem to learn that we have squandered what we had. Now we have to fix it and not be putting a $400 million debt on the tax payers. Might be a hard time for the farmers until we are no longer in a drought. That is life. We’ve all been having a hard time. Maybe we should quit putting in golf courses, man made lakes and raising a token amount of animals and watering a token amount of ag for the tax deduction.

  4. No quotes or input from Portland General Electric? Lake Billy Chinook is an artificial lake created by the Round Butte Hydroelectric Dam, co-owned by PGE and the Warm Springs tribes. What will the potential impacts be for hydro power production? All migrating fish from the upper Deschutes Basin are captured via the Selective Water Withdrawal (sits in the LBC forebay), sorted into trucks, and released downstream to complete their journey. How will lower lake levels impact that process? And, algae and water temperature is already a hot button topic around here. Lower water levels increase water temps, lower oxygen, encourage algae growth, all which greatly decrease fish habitat and health. With our exponential growth in Central Oregon and extreme drought, the aquifers, tributaries, and upper reservoirs are being depleted. Where does the water manager think LBC gets its water input? Pulling from the lake solves nothing. So many questions.

    1. Where does LBC get its water from? Where does North unit get its water from? I believe it all comes from the same place. If I understand this correctly, there is no new water right here. If you take the water out higher or lower, it’s water that is not going to be in LBC either way. The difference being the push water that you don’t need if you take it out via pump and pipe and pressurize it. This should lead to more water in LBC. Your concerns about LBC pool levels seem unfounded. That Selective uptake has been a dismal failure

Leave a Reply

Skip to content