Swalley Wins Piping Case 2-12-08

On February 12th U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken provided a final judgment in case Civ. No. 04-1721-AA, Swalley Irrigation District, Plaintiff, v. Gary Clement Alvis, et al. (about 160 property owners owning property along the Swalley Main Canal area to be piped). Click here for final judgment (pdf document)

The final judgment refers to the court's opinions of March 1, 2006 (district may pipe), November 16, 2006 (easements effective in Section 16) and March 23, 2007 (dismissal of many of the defendants). These items are available from the federal court document or Swalley will provide them upon request.

This case was filed in the federal court as a declaration, the district asking the question of the court as to whether Swalley has the right to pipe its Main Canal (specifically 5.1 miles in mostly urban areas) under its 1891 federal right-of-way (ROW). The court has decided that the district can pipe using that easement as authority. This decision is important to all districts who have similar federal ROWs.

The district's attorney on this case is Dan Israel, a federal right-of-way attorney out of Boulder, Colorado.

Swalley is rapidly building pipeline and should complete all but 1.2 miles before April 15.


Swalley Irrigation District, Central Oregon Irrigation District and the Lone Pine Irrigation District have partnered to develop a new fishscreen installation at the districts' diversions near North Canal Dam in Bend (near the Riverhouse). There are two fishscreens, meeting in a V-shape. The smaller screen on one side prohibits fish from entering Swalley's pipeline to the main canal and a larger screen on the other side of the V will protect fish before the diversion into COID and Lone Pine. The screens replace old-style louvers the districts installed in the 1960s as recommended then by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

The new screens have been developed to meet criteria approved by the ODFW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to meet today's fishery protection requirements mandated by the federal Endangered Species Act and other protection needs. Engineering to meet the agencies requirements was accomplished by DEA in Bend. The new screens went into operation in 2004.

The three districts divert a total of 785 cubic second feet (cfs) of flow at this location on the Deschutes River to provide irrigation on over 50,000 acres of agricultural land in the Bend/Tumalo/Redmond area. The screens replicate successful similar installations in Stayton, Oregon, and in Northern California and Yakima, Washington and at Arnold Irrigation District in Bend earlier.
Partnership among the districts made the design and maintenance more cost effective. The project came in just under $1 million dollars. Swalley's share is about 24% of that cost. The project has been granted $293,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant program (FRIMA) for fishscreens, $150,000 from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board through ODFW's fishscreen funding program. Swalley's total share of the $1 million project will be about $100,000.

Bluprint of the fishscreen project

Swalley and Central Oregon Irrigation District (COID) have an agreement to exchange certain deliveries on the edges of the two districts delivery systems where better delivery can be provided to the customer due to proximity to the other district's facilities. This is a long-standing agreement confirmed by the watermaster (Oregon Water Resources Department, Bend Regional Office).

Deliveries that are made by Swalley employees to COID customers must follow Swalley water rights’ scheduling and the rules and regulations of SID (Swalley). Assessments are paid to COID. Some of the COID deliveries are on a rotation basis, but Swalley does not rotate water use among its customers, but provides individual deliveries.


Canal piping good for river, people
By Gary Blake / Bulletin guest columnist
Published: September 07. 2007 5:00AM PST

Recently, letter writer John Robbins opined that property owners have been ignored in the piping project process. Mr. Robbins did not mention that he is a board member of the Central Oregon Irrigation District. He is also an irrigator in COID, and the district diverts water from the Deschutes River that benefits his property.

It is important for honest, open dialogue about the piping process. The common goal is to ensure that there is enough water in the Deschutes for irrigation, recreational enjoyment and a healthy fish habitat. It is not a time for unfounded, hysterical diatribes against mysterious, unnamed “big government” conspirators.

As a COID board member, Mr. Robbins is aware of the need to conserve water, provide for public safety, deliver irrigation water efficiently to his district’s members and of the reduced cost to his district from piping the canal that passes through his property.

Over the last five years, three irrigation districts — COID, Swalley and Tumalo — have installed 10.01 miles of piping that have resulted in leaving 32.07 cfs (more than 3.7 billion gallons) of water in the Deschutes each irrigation season. The river has never looked healthier, and, to my knowledge, property owners have not experienced the mayhem Mr. Robbins purports will be the result of installing these piping “lifelines.”

The “main canals” of both Swalley and COID are not protected by “easements,” but by federally granted rights of way, as legal counsel has apprised the COID board. These rights of way were issued to the districts under the Federal Right of Way Act of 1891 to allow for the delivery of irrigation water to settlers. In the 1860s, up to 1 million acres of arid land were granted to any western state making a request under the Desert Land Act (the Carey Act) so that settlers would come to arid parts of Oregon and develop the land.

The irrigation canals were not built to:

• Provide a scenic amenity;

• Enhance property values;

• Be a receptacle for stormwater runoff;

• Receive garbage and grass cuttings from property owners; or

• Provide a rafting or swimming experience.

Anyone contemplating a property purchase should understand irrigation easements, rights of way and the district policies that affect the property.

Before Swalley Irrigation District undertook its piping project, it researched the impacts of piping versus lining, held “town halls” open to its members, the public and the press. Swalley held an election in 2004 specifically for approval of its piping project. During the past four years, the news media has thoroughly covered the issues and the debate. Affected landowners cannot claim ignorance of the canal piping projects.

Before initiating its piping projects, Swalley studied the costs and benefits of piping versus lining. Lining for the 5.1-mile Swalley project is one-third the cost of the piping (not the one-tenth claimed by Mr. Robbins). However, lining has a limited life due to temperature fluctuations in Central Oregon and has to be replaced every 10 to 15 years. Pipe lasts more than 50 years. Long term, it costs less for piping than lining.

There are other benefits to piping:


Lining canals speeds the flow of the water to almost double that of an unlined canal. When water flows at 6.6 feet per second, instead of 3.6 feet per second, the slick lining makes it dangerous and almost impossible to escape the canal.

Water loss.

While lining helps with reducing seepage, it does not do away with loss of water due to evaporation.


Water and energy conservation benefits from piping are significantly greater than with lining. One-quarter of Swalley’s total water right (27 cubic feet per second) will go directly into the Deschutes, and water users will be able to pressurize their systems and reduce their electrical and pumping costs.

Renewable resource.

Energy generated from the district’s hydro plant will go into the grid and provide decentralized power opportunities here in Central Oregon, which hopefully will keep power costs down, while helping to provide a more secure, reliable power source.

Taxpayers and Swalley’s users are not paying for Swalley’s project — it is financed by grants from private foundations, the state lottery program, funds from the Oregon Department of Energy bond sales and energy sales.

Everyone who lives or recreates in Central Oregon should contribute to making the Deschutes River basin a healthy, sustainable ecosystem. The Swalley piping project works for the district and for the common good.

Gary Blake lives in Tumalo and is on the board of the Swalley Irrigation District

Press Release (pdf)
Bend Bulletin - March 8, 2006 (pdf)