USDA announces new funding for Owyhee Irrigation District as Biden visits Oregon

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Although some questions remain – such as how much money the district will receive and when – the money will be used to convert earthen canals and levees into pipes in a bid to streamline wet product delivery.

A visitor to Lake Owyhee looks over the water in June 2021. The Owyhee Irrigation District is on track to receive federal funding to help complete infrastructure upgrades. (The Company/FILE).

NYSSA — The Owyhee Irrigation District will get a big boost from the federal government to help revamp its water distribution system, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an announcement that more than $2 million in total was being given to three water districts in Oregon to upgrade infrastructure.

The money for Oregon is part of a larger $420 million grant planned for 132 projects in 31 states stemming from President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure act.

The news came as President Biden was expected in Oregon on Thursday to talk about the benefits of infrastructure legislation. He was scheduled to appear in Portland on Thursday afternoon.

The Owyhee Irrigation District does not yet know how much money it will receive, Director Clancy Flynn said. Flynn said the federal money will be used to replace canals and earth levees with pipes as part of the agency’s system improvement plan.

“We have a lot of things that haven’t aired,” Flynn said.

Switching from earthen canals to pipes saves money, time and, most importantly, water, Flynn said.

“Once you put something in a pipe, you eliminate evaporation, seepage, and vegetative loss. So it costs you less water to get the water where it’s going,” Flynn said.

Flynn said he also doesn’t know when the district will receive the money.

“But all money is good money,” he said.

Flynn said the district faces a steep price — at least $2 billion — to complete all the necessary improvements.

The district is part of the Owyhee Project, an ambitious Depression-era public works venture designed to supply water to more than 160,000 acres of land in Malheur County. The cornerstone of the project is the Owyhee Dam, a 400-foot concrete barrier that can store nearly 1,200,000 acre-feet of water.

Topical advice? Contact journalist Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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