Irrigation Districts Continue Efforts in Endangered Species Act (ESA) Consultation Process
On Monday, April 2, 2012, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) released its Biological Opinion pursuant to section 7 of the Endangered Species on the effects of the Bureau of Reclamation’s future operation and maintenance of the Rogue River Basin Project which includes the Talent, Medford, and Rogue River Valley Irrigation Districts (“Districts”).
In this opinion, NMFS concludes that the proposed action is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of Southern Oregon and Northern California Coasts Coho salmon or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat for Coho salmon. The details of this long and detailed opinion and how it affects the operations of the Districts are being reviewed. The Districts are encouraged that it appears in crafting this opinion, NMFS has used the science and operational knowledge of the system that was developed during the consultation process.
For several years, the Talent, Medford, and Rogue River Valley Irrigation Districts have been engaged in an Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) consultation with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“BOR”) regarding the operations of the Rogue River Basin Project (“Project”). The Project is a Bureau of Reclamation project supplying irrigation water to more than 35,000 acres of agricultural lands in the Bear Creek basin. These high-value irrigated farm lands were a significant contributor to the estimated $64,000,000.00 in gross farm and ranch sales in Jackson County in 2010 (Source: 2010-2011 Oregon Agriculture & Fisheries Statistics, published by USDA and ODA). In addition, the region’s irrigated agricultural lands are responsible for thousands of family wage jobs.
The consultation process is required by Section 7 of the ESA because Coho salmon are listed as a threatened species in the Rogue River basin, including Bear Creek, Little Butte Creek, and their tributaries. These same stream systems serve as the source of water for the Project’s agricultural lands in the Bear Creek basin. The ESA requires that the BOR consult with the NMFS in order to minimize impacts that Project operations could have on listed species.
Over the last several years, the Districts and their patrons have committed an incredible amount of time and resources to this process to make sure that, in developing the opinion, the federal agencies have before them the best available science and operational information about how the Project operates. Certain operational changes will be necessary due to this opinion, but the Districts are both confident and cautious that these changes will be manageable and feasible. Through collaboration, coordination and hard work, the Biological Opinion we have today appears to provide more water for fish, while allowing the continued delivery of irrigation water that sustains the Rogue Valley’s economic engine. The results of this opinion ultimately afford the opportunity for most of the citizens of the Rogue valley to continue to reside here. Also, with continued operation of the Project, flood control is preserved along with recreational opportunities the irrigation reservoirs provide.
UNLOCKING OF CANAL HEADGATES
As in the past several years, the canal headgates were locked with padlocks at the end of the 2011 irrigation season. The ditch riders will be unlocking the headgates at the beginning of this irrigation season. If you find your padlock is not open when you are ready to irrigate, please call the office so that your ditch rider can be notified to remove the lock.
IMPORTANT RECLAMATION REFORM ACT (RRA) INFORMATION
Federal funds from the Bureau of Reclamation were used to finance the enlargement and reconstruction of the Talent Division of the Rogue River Basin Project in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Due to the federal financing, the Talent Irrigation District is subject to the rules and regulations of the Reclamation Reform Act of 1982.
Any landowner who owns and or leases irrigated land totaling 40.1 acres or more must annually file RRA forms with the District office prior to receiving irrigation water. In addition to filing the forms prior to receiving any irrigation water, you must also file new forms if your landholdings change in anyway during the irrigation season. This includes moving your property into a trust.
The District makes every effort to help landowners comply with the RRA regulations, but it is absolutely the landowner’s responsibility to understand the law and make sure that the correct forms are filled out and on file. We are constantly asked if anyone looks at these forms. The Bureau of Reclamation physically comes to the District office once every 3 to 5 years to perform an audit of all the forms on file. If they find errors on the forms, they can assess Administrative fees for each form and each year that the form was not filled out correctly. If irrigation water was delivered to land without a form on file where a form was required, the Bureau can assess full-cost charges for each acre of land that received water. These fees can be extremely expensive. Thus we cannot stress enough the importance of these forms being completed correctly and in a timely manner.
BEAR CREEK WATERSHED TMDL IMPLEMENTATION PROGRAM UPDATE
The District is required to have a plan under the Federal Clean Water Act, under the direction of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to help the local creeks meet state water quality standards in relation to bacteria, temperature,excessive aquatic weeds, excess sediments, etc. The acronym TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load. These are the maximum limits allowed for the above listed pollutants.
In the Bear Creek Watershed, over 311 miles of creeks have been documented as not meeting these state water quality standards. The purpose of the TMDL program is to bring the creeks in the watershed back to a healthy status and meet the state standards.
The District is working towards addressing our water quality impacts. As our budget funds allow, we continue to pipe small sections of our open canals which reduces water temperatures and aquatic weed growth. In some instances it allows us to provide gravity pressure irrigation to our water users which in turn allows the landowners to convert from flood irrigation to sprinkler irrigation which dramatically reduces runoff that eventually will end up back in the local creeks.
If you would like more information on the Bear Creek TMDL Implementation Plan you can visit the Rogue Valley Council of Governments website at http:// www.rvcog.org and click on the Natural resources link.
WATER SUPPLY INFORMATION AND DITCH RIDER ASSIGNMENTS
The District is entering this irrigation season with a sufficient water supply. The reservoir capacities as of May 4, 2012 are as follows:
Howard Prairie 55,402 acre feet or 92%
Hyatt Lake 15,882 acre feet or 99%
Emigrant Lake 38,763 acre feet or 100%
We began setting up the system to run water on April 24th and starting flushing the canals the rest of that week. During the week of April 30th, we continued to get the pressure lines up and running and we will increase the canal flows as the demand for water increases.
Even though we have an adequate water supply, it is still important to use water efficiently and conserve as much as possible. Water that is conserved this irrigation season is carried over to the next irrigation season. Since we never know how much precipitation will be received next winter, we need to be thinking ahead and do all we can to help ourselves out for the 2013 irrigation season.
You can track the local reservoir elevations which are updated daily at the Bureau of Reclamation’s website at http://www.usbr.gov/pn/hydromet/ roguetea.html.
DITCH RIDER ASSIGNMENTS
Only one Ditch Rider assignment has changed since last irrigation season and that is the Lower East Canal. Tracy decided to leave the District’s employ last fall and we are pleased to announce that former Ditch Rider Sam has graciously agreed to return for the season. Most of you know Sam as he was the Ditch Rider on this canal for many years prior to his semi-retirement. The following are the canal assignments:
East Canal (Upper Portion)
East Canal (Lower Portion)
West Canal and McDonald System
During the irrigation season, the District office is open to receive water orders from 7:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
All water orders need to be placed by calling the District office at 541-535-1529.
The Ditch Riders are provided cell phones for their use in conducting their daily work. It is the District’s policy not to give out the Ditch Riders’ cell phone numbers.
On evenings and weekends, there is a voice mail system on the phone number 541-535-1529 where water orders can be left. The messages are checked regularly on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays by the Ditch Riders who are on-call. The Ditch Riders rotate on-call weekends.
For after hours emergencies, the phone number to call is 541-770-0315. The emergency answering service will contact the District’s on-call person if your situation constitutes an emergency. An emergency is a situation where property damage is happening or is imminent.
The emergency answering service will not contact the on-call person for water orders or for lack of water. These types of messages should be left on the office voice mail system.
POLICY FOR COLLECTION OF DELINQUENT WATER USER ACCOUNTS
The District’s policy for the collection of delinquent water user accounts has been in place for several years. The following is a reminder of that policy and procedure:
February 1, 2012: The District mailed out the annual charges.
April 1, 2012: The annual charges were due. Any charges after this date were deemed delinquent. Interest was charged to delinquent accounts from the date the invoice was originally mailed. The interest rate, as set by State Statute, is 16% per annum.
October 2, 2012: The Board of Directors reviews the list of all delinquent accounts which owe fifty dollars ($50.00) or more and they are mailed a letter “Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested” notifying them that a lien will be filed against their property if their account is not paid in full by 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 15, 2012.
November 16, 2012: At 8:00 a.m. the “Notice of Claim of Lien” will be filed in the Official Records of Jackson County, Oregon and an additional charge of $198.00 will be added to each tax lot that a lien is filed against.
January 15, 2013: Any tax lots owing fees from 2010 and have 3 liens filed against their property will have foreclosure procedures initiated by the District’s attorney.
April 1, 2013: Any properties who have failed to pay their 2012 irrigation charges in full will not be allowed to have water delivered to their property until their delinquent 2012 and any prior year’s charges (if applicable) are paid in full.
Please remember that the District will accept payments on your account. Every payment received will be applied to your account according to District policy; however, interest will continue to accrue on the unpaid balance at the rate of 16% per annum.
BOARD OF DIRECTOR ELECTION INFORMATION
Each board member serves a three year term. The terms expire on a rotational basis so that one board member is up for election each year. An election is called to be held on the second Tuesday of each November to elect a board member whose term is expiring. Nominations for a board member position may be made by petition signed by at least 10 patrons who are qualified to vote in the District. Nomination petitions are available in the District office starting September 1st. Qualifications for a board member position are as follows: must be 18 years of age; must be an Oregon resident; and must be an owner, or a shareholder of a corporate owner of land within the District. The signed petition must be returned to the District office by 4:30 p.m. on Monday, October 1, 2012.
The District will continue to post our planned moss removal operations on our website at www.talentid.org. Please feel free to check the website weekly for the most up to date information. The moss growth is sporadic and sometimes sudden with warm weather conditions. We will do the best we can to keep you informed.
Please keep in mind that the moss removal operations will cause limited interruptions in the canal flow, so we ask that you be patient and work with the District during these times.
MAINTAINING WATER RIGHTS
All water rights within the District must be maintained by putting the water to beneficial use at least once in every five year period. Oregon Revised Statue 540.610 states “Beneficial use shall be the basis, the measure and the limit of all rights to the use of water in this state. Whenever the owner of a perfected and developed water right ceases or fails to use all or part of the water appropriated for a period of five successive years, the failure to use shall establish a rebuttable presumption of forfeiture of all or part of the water right”. If the water right is not maintained, the landowner and the District could lose the water right. Maintenance of the water right is the patron’s responsibility. The water right is an asset to your land. It is extremely important to the landowners and the District that all water rights are maintained because the land base of water rights are the financial foundation of the District. For the District to remain financially secure the water rights must remain valid.
To help the District document water use we encourage you to call into the District office at least once during the irrigation season when you are using the water, even if you are on a regular rotation. The call will be documented in our computer system.
WISE PROJECT UPDATE
Since the last time you read about the WISE Project, a lot has happened. But before we get into all of that, a quick reminder as to what is proposed with WISE. Simply, WISE looks to improve the irrigation infrastructure of TID, MID and RRVID by piping the canals and saving all of the water that is lost through evaporation and leakage. This will allow for a host of other benefits as well including providing pressure to irrigation turnouts, hydropower generation, eliminating moss in the canals, and improving water availability. In addition to piping all of the canals, WISE is also studying the potential for using reclaimed effluent for irrigation and increasing storage at Agate Reservoir. All in all, the project offers a lot of benefits, including saving more than 30,000 acre-feet of water in an average water year, almost enough to fill Emigrant Reservoir.
So to make this project move a little closer to becoming reality, we have started up a couple of new phases. First, we applied for and received recognition from the Governor’s Office for WISE to be recognized as an Oregon Solutions Project. This designation comes with six months of assistance from the Oregon Solutions team who are working with us to move the project forward, including finding the remaining funding needed to complete the Environmental Impact Statement. Oregon Solutions will work with us through July of this year, by which time we hope to have found the funds needed to complete the required environmental studies as well as begun the process of moving WISE into the next phase.
The second piece of big news is that the WISE Project applied for and received a grant from the Oregon Water Resources Department. These funds will be used to complete a Cost Benefit Analysis of the WISE Project. We already know the project will save a lot of water, but now we can determine if the project will make sense financially.
There is a lot happening over the next year. Stay tuned.
WELCOMING OUR NEW EMPLOYEES
There is a new voice in the office which belongs to Amanda. Amanda lives in Talent with her husband and three children. We also have two new maintenance employees, Jake and Jose’. Jake lives in Central Point with his son and Jose’ lives in Medford with his wife. Please join us in welcoming all three new employees. They are all welcomed additions to our staff.
REMINDER ABOUT CANAL SAFETY
With the irrigation season upon us, the District is constantly concerned with the safety of the general public and wants to remind everyone of the dangers posed by open irrigation canals. The canals contain slippery moss, sharp rocks, glass and barbed wire. There are a lot of hidden underwater dangers such as turbulence or suction strong enough to rip off a lifejacket!
Some driveway crossing have a trash rack to catch debris as it floats in the water. The pressure of the water at these crossings is higher causing even more danger in these areas. In addition, there are several siphons in the District that drop down several hundred feet crossing under roads with the water resurfacing on the other side of the hill. There is no way to survive accidently falling into one of these structures.
Kids building dams in canals or ditches for fun can cause extensive damage that requires expensive repairs. Please communicate to your friends and family that it is not only against the law to be in the irrigation canals, but how dangerous ditches and canals can be. Please call the District office immediately at 541-535-1529 if you see someone swimming or bathing in the canals.