Study looks at cost, benefits of replacing irrigation canals with pipes

Officials for a proposed water diversion project say it could save Jackson County more than enough water to fill Emigrant Lake to capacity annually. Now they're just figuring out if the benefits outweigh the $450 million price tag.

If approved, the Water for Irrigation, Streams, and Economy — WISE — Project would pipe 600 miles of canals countywide. A $250,000 cost-benefit analysis, paid for with a grant from the Oregon Water Resources Department, kicked off in October and will be completed by June 30.

"It's not new water. It's just more efficiently and effectively managed," said Steve Mason, WISE project manager.

Mason presented a breakdown of WISE to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners today.

The project hopes to replace the canals with pipe, which makes for more efficient distribution of canal water. This could save as much as 45,000 acre-feet of water per year. About 39,000 acre-feet will fill Emigrant Lake to capacity.

"We're talking a lot of water," Mason said.

This much water would make for enhanced drought protection and water quality, and increased stream flows in Bear and Little Butte creeks during irrigation season. Additionally, it would improve aquatic habitat of salmon and riparian species.

The analysis, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, will determine how much money Talent, Medford and Rogue River Valley irrigation districts will save on operations costs. The funds for the project would come from state and federal dollars, and possibly some bonds. Project officials are confident the project also will yield investments from generated hydropower.

— Ryan Pfeil

Read more in the Mail Tribune Thursday.

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