Irrigation District launches economic study to demonstrate need for pumping station
With drought and environmental discharges draining the Wickiup Reservoir, the North Unit Irrigation District needs an additional water source for farmers in Jefferson County. The district wants to build a pumping station at Billy Chinook Lake, but it needs $400 million to do so.
To get $400 million, they have to apply for federal grants. For federal grants, they need an economic study demonstrating the importance of water in agriculture and the economic importance of agriculture in Jefferson County. “For some reason, this information is not accessible,” said Mike Britton, executive director of NUID.
When managing irrigation districts in California, Britton said the information was at his fingertips. Now the district needs to hire economists to put those numbers together. It’s going to cost $200,000. Last December, Oregon lawmakers designated $17.1 million in drought relief for Jefferson County. Of that money, $1 million was earmarked for drought resilience. Britton says the Oregon Water Enhancement Board has yet to decide how to distribute that money. “We can’t wait for the state to decide when and how that money will come,” Britton told Jefferson County commissioners.
The commissioners authorized the loan with the assurance that NUID would repay the money once OWEB released the drought relief funds. A pumping station would supplement the water farmers already draw from Wickiup. “It can provide a sustainable and reliable source of water that can provide more certainty to our water users,” Britton said. Drawing water from Billy Chinook Lake serves environmental interests because it allows more water to remain in the stream for aquatic habitat until the water reaches the lake. A pump station at the lake eliminates the need for a pump station at Crooked River.
The Bureau of Reclamation built the Wickiup Reservoir in the 1940s for $8 million, or more than $150 million in today’s dollars. NUID farmers still pay for Wickiup and its improvements.
The approximate price of the Billy Chinook Lake Pumping Station is $400 million, with annual operating costs of $5-6 million, more than NUID’s current annual budget. The NUID estimates that farmers will benefit from $4 million to $6 million per year through increased supply and improved crop yields.
The district needs economists to verify their estimates and convince the people who administer federal grants that a Lake Billy Chinook pumping station is worth their investment.
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