COID's canal piping plans prompt debate

Upset neighbors say claims don't hold water

Neighbors oppose canal piping plans

A soothing trickle of water -- a sound that residents next to Pilot Butte Canal in Bend love.

"You can hear it," Sue Vernon, who has lived next to a portion of the Pilot Butte canal for over 32 years, said Monday. "Everyone that spent a night with us, they sleep upstairs in the summer, they say they like the window open so they can hear the water."

If the Central Oregon Irrigation District has its way, that sight and sound could soon be gone.

COID is proposing an additional 4,500 feet of piping, to connect with the already existing piping upstream. Construction could start as early as October. The pipes would be buried under dirt.

It's a return of debates seen a decade ago, when the region's irrigation districts first began to pipe the leaky canals, to conserve water -- but presenting major changes to residents who live along them.

The main concern, says COID, is benefiting the community and the environment. The piping would help preserve water, which would go back into the Crooked and Deschutes rivers, helping endangered species, as well as create more hydroelectric power.

"COID doesn't operate for individual property owner's benefit. We operate for the whole," said Steven Johnson, district manager. "It (the piping project) will increase stream flows and will benefit species directly."

To some residents in the area, those arguments don't hold water.

"The rapids and the sounds of is really a calming effect," said Nevin Andrews, who just moved into a house by the water a week ago from Portland. "I just hope that they decide not to do that piping thing."

Many residents are worried what the piping could diminish their property value -- and for some, the water is one of the reasons they moved to the neighborhood in the first place.

"When we were looking at houses in this area, the sounds and the view, all the animals on the canal, was all a big plus for moving in this place specifically," Andrews said.

Another concern raised by the canal neighbors: COID is asking the Deschutes County Planning Commission to grant a so called "outright use" for operation, maintenance and piping of existing irrigation systems, meaning further changes could happen without more public input.

COID's Johnson says that's already the case for all other land-use zones and is important for them to do their work.

"It's for the health of the river, the health of the species, and COID has to meet these regulatory obligations," Johnson said.

The Deschutes County Planning Commission continues its public hearing on the request at its meeting that begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Deschutes Services Center, 1300 NW Wall Street in Bend.

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