Water storage denied for Tumalo reservoirs

Water storage denied for Tumalo reservoirs
Tumalo Irrigation District applied to transfer water to reservoirs owned by Bend development company
By Ted Shorack
The Bulletin

May 6, 2015

Oregon regulators have denied permanent water storage at two small reservoirs near Tumalo that developers have considered using for water skiing.

The Oregon Water Resources Department determined last week the water-right transfer conflicted with state law. Officials also expressed the need for land use information showing how the reservoirs would be operated.

The Tumalo Irrigation District applied to store about 125 acre-feet of water — or enough to irrigate 22 acres of farmland — at the reservoirs instead of at Upper Tumalo Reservoir, which was built in the 1920s and is prone to losing water into the ground.

The reservoirs are owned by KC Development Group and are on a former mining site located off Johnson Road near Tumalo.

Regulators based their decision on an interpretation of state law. They determined water can’t be transferred from the district’s reservoir to the smaller reservoirs if it is going to remain there and not be used to irrigate the property.

Officials also were hesitant to grant approval of the transfer without a statement showing how the reservoirs comply with local zoning of the area. Deschutes County commissioners decided in March that use of the property for reservoirs and recreational activity needed to go through a more rigorous review process instead of being allowed outright.

The irrigation district submitted a new application to the county this week seeking permits for water storage and recreational activity that are subject to additional requirements before being approved.

The irrigation district still hopes to store the water at the reservoirs in part because of their lining, which keeps water from seeping into the ground. Kenneth Rieck, manager of the irrigation district, said other options might be available and are being pursued to eventually get approval.

“It’s too valuable for us to let it go,” said Rieck about the proposed water transfer. “We wish it could be completed this year. It would have been a lot of help.”

Rieck said the threat of drought due to low snowpack makes the water storage project necessary. About 10 percent of the water stored at the Tumalo Reservoir is lost into the ground.

Property owners adjacent and nearby have opposed the project, offering skepticism about the need for storing water at the site and challenging potential recreational activities. They have also raised concerns about potential impacts to wildlife.

Conservation and land use advocates groups also monitored the decision. Kimberly Priestley, senior policy analyst with WaterWatch, a Portland-based organization, was concerned the irrigation district could potentially pull more water out of Tumalo Creek because of the more efficient reservoirs and affect the “struggling fish population.”

The organization also opposed the water transfer because of the precedent it could set for other streams and water right issues around Oregon.

“Had this been allowed to go forward it would have created mischief across the state and potentially created the opportunity for harm to streams everywhere,” Priestley said.