Jul 29, 2022 | Blog

Central Oregon Ribbon Cutting

Alliance Leaders Join
Senator Merkley and USDA Under Secretary
At Central Oregon Ribbon Cutting

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Robert Bonnie (Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm Production and Conservation) traveled to Central Oregon today to celebrate the completion of Three Sisters Irrigation District’s 25-year effort to modernize its water delivery system. The Family Farm Alliance will have a strong presence at this event and will directly engage with the Senator and the Under Secretary at a one-hour roundtable meeting later in the day to discuss the importance of the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program (WFPO).

“The district has realized a 25-year pursuit to become fully modernized,” said Marc Thalacker, the manager of Three Sisters Irrigation District (TSID), who also serves on the Alliance Board of Directors.

Modernization improvements include piping the district’s 64 miles of canals, installation of a Farmers Screen horizontal fish screen, on-farm improvements, and the implementation of fish-friendly hydropower.

“These efforts have transformed the district into one of the most modernized of Oregon’s approximately 40 irrigation districts,” said Mr. Thalacker (pictured above).

The ribbon was cut on the new 300 kW McKenzie hydropower facility, the district’s third hydropower plant. The new unit will generate enough energy to power approximately 100 homes with revenues to the district that help to offset the costs of modernization.

The event – hosted by Energy Trust of Oregon, Farmers Conservation Alliance (FCA), TSID and the Natural Resources Conservation Service – was organized to showcase the agricultural, environmental, energy, economic, and community benefits of irrigation modernization and the broad collaboration between the many groups and organizations that made the work possible.

CLICK HERE to view the final video of FCA’s three-part series exploring drought in Oregon. Cate Havstad and Chris Casad started Casad Family Farm in 2017 and their story thus far is one of flexibility and adaptation.

Following the ribbon-cutting event, Senator Merkley and Under Secretary Bonnie will meet with Mr. Thalacker, Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen, and local irrigation district managers and producers to discuss concerns and opportunities associated with WFPO implementation.

“The roundtable event provides a tremendous opportunity for the Alliance and its Central Oregon members to share firsthand experience working with WFPO and how the program has advanced projects that implemented multiple benefits for farmers and the environment,” said Mr. Keppen. “Part of the conversation will also focus on ways to improve WFPO to support future modernization projects in the Western United States.”

WFPO funding is critical for supporting the modernization of irrigation water delivery infrastructure at scale. It also funds projects like flood prevention and damage reduction, development of rural water supply sources, erosion and sediment control, fish and wildlife habitat enhancement, wetland creation and restoration, and recreational opportunities.

“This is a program that Family Farm Alliance members have put to use to replace leaking, open canals with pressurized pipes, and overall improving agricultural water security,” said Mr. Keppen. “The program’s funding is becoming increasingly competitive because of the scale of need in modernizing agricultural infrastructure.”

We will continue to keep you informed on this and other developments impacting Western irrigated agriculture.
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