Southern Oregon irrigation project gains wide support
By MITCH LIES
MEDFORD, Ore. — Farmers, conservationists, lawmakers and others ratified an agreement Sept. 26 proclaiming their commitment to improve water delivery systems in the upper Rogue River Valley.
The Water for Irrigation Streams and Economy project, or WISE, is designed to improve in-stream flows for fish and increase irrigation efficiencies for 35,000 acres of farm ground serviced by the Talent, Medford and Rogue River Valley irrigation districts.
“I’m proud to be involved in this collaborate process between so many diverse interests in our valley,” said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who participated in the ceremony.
“WISE is a responsible, economically viable plan to get cooler, cleaner water in our streams, more reliable water supplies for our farmers, and better habitat for our salmon and steelhead,” said Bob Hunter of WaterWatch of Oregon.
The project involves piping about 200 miles of canals and 300 miles of laterals and possibly raising the height of a reservoir at a total cost of approximately $400 million.
Next step in the project is developing a cost-benefit analysis, said Bryan Baumgartner of the Rogue River Valley Irrigation District. Project leaders recently received notification they have been awarded $243,000 in state funds to do the analysis, Baumgartner said.
The project also needs an environmental impact statement before it can proceed to construction. The EIS is projected to cost $3 million. Under the project plan, the federal government would pay half the cost.
Baumgartner said he’s been working on the project since the 1990s.
“Because of the enormity of it, we’ve never been able to get it off the ground,” he said.