TFT to protect 1,000 gallons per minute in the Lostine through new efficiency project

December 7, 2018

The Freshwater Trust (TFT) received $600,000 of $5.3 million awarded to water projects by the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD).

The OWRD funding will go toward the Johnston Lane Conservation Project, an effort to convert 300 acres of grass hay and alfalfa in Wallowa County from flood irrigation to a pivot irrigation system. The water conserved in the Lostine River as a result of the upgrade will benefit federally protected native fish, including Chinook and steelhead. The project is estimated to protect 2.3 cubic feet per second, or more than 1,000 gallons of water per minute.

“What’s happening here is a tangible example of what we mean when you hear The Freshwater Trust say working lands and healthy rivers can coexist,” said Jessica Humphreys, TFT Restoration Project Manager based in Enterprise, Oregon. “It’s not just something we say; it’s what we put into practice.”

Flooding is one of the most common forms of irrigation worldwide. Water is pumped into fields and allowed to flow through crops. Pivot systems use as little as half as much water through precise and efficient delivery.

TFT has worked to improve the Lostine River for more than a decade. The Lostine Minimum Flow Agreement is one of the most noteworthy efforts developed to date. The program compensates 60 farmers and ranchers for working together to maintain a minimum flow of 15 cubic feet per second, or approximately 6,700 gallons per minute, during the hottest times of the year.

The Lostine is a snowmelt-dominated system with peak flows occurring in June and July and then declining precipitously starting in early August. Natural low flows coupled with significant irrigation withdrawals and diversion structures have created sometimes impassable conditions for Chinook during August and September.

“There were parts of this river and its tributaries that used to run bone dry before this agreement was put in place,” said Humphreys. “This river is running because of partnerships like these.”

TFT has implemented one other large-scale irrigation upgrades in Eastern Oregon. In 2016, TFT was awarded a $1.49 million grant from OWRD to support the conversion of 872 acres of predominantly flood-irrigated land to a pressurized pivot sprinkler system on the Wolfe Family Farm, a property directly adjacent to the new project.

“There’s an incredibly invested community, including the Nez Perce Tribe and many individuals, helping make innovative solutions a reality,” said Humphreys. “This latest initiative builds upon a foundation of meaningful work started years ago.”

And it builds on the landowner’s legacy of responsible stewardship. The family has fenced livestock out of streambank areas to prevent erosion and improve water quality and worked with the Nez Perce Tribe to complete a project that would improve fish passage during low flows.

Their interest in the conservation project was spurred after witnessing the success of the project next door at the Wolfe Family Farm. Furthermore, erosion threatened one of the main ditches currently used to flood 140 acres of property. The upgraded pivot system makes it possible to keep that land in production.

“These are the stories that dispute the notion that farmers and conservationists cannot work together,” said Humphreys. “We love being the ones debunking that myth.”

#agriculture    #Conservation    #Lostine River    #Oregon    #Restoration    #Wallowa River