Prineville to spend $300,000 for more water rights

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: December 04. 2006 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The city of Prineville is planning to spend $300,000 to acquire the right to pump more water from its wells for residential consumption.

The city will buy 75 acres of water mitigation credits from private water bank Deschutes Irrigation. The credits will allow the city to take more water from other sources near the Crooked River by conserving water in the 75 acres.

The acreage is equivalent to about 110 million gallons of water, Assistant City Manager Jerry Gillham said.

“While we’re able to find sources of water, like we could dig a well most any place and probably find water, we can’t extract that water without mitigating an extraction of water someplace else,” Gillham said. “Buying these water credits, which are mitigation credits, allows us to extract more water from our well.”

Government regulations require that a city wanting to extract more groundwater from one source obtain water mitigation credits in order to conserve water elsewhere, said Bruce Aylward, water bank director for the Deschutes River Conservancy.

“In the old days they would just buy surface water and that was the water they used directly, but now everybody’s going to groundwater, so they have to go through this kind of convoluted process to get the mitigation credits.”

Deschutes Irrigation bought the 75 acres of former farmland in order to transform their water rights into permanent water mitigation credits. It was a two-year bureaucratic process, company owner John Short said. The land is located between Terrebonne and Prine-ville.

The land and the city’s well are in the Crooked River zone, which means that in order to take more water from its well at the Prineville airport and drill another well there – a project that is already in the works – the city has to mitigate the impact on the river.

Aylward said this is the first time Prineville has bought permanent water mitigation credits. Mayor Mike Wendel said he thinks it might become more common in the future as the city needs more water to accommodate growth.

“I could see this being a constant process in the future,” Wendel said. “We’re not running out of water – it’s just that we just need to make sure that we have a sufficient amount of water rights to be able to draw the water in the wells.”

But Short said the credits he is selling to the city are the only ones currently available in the Crooked River zone, and there is not much additional land in the area with water rights that could be changed to mitigation credits.

Short said he usually charges about $6,000 an acre for mitigation credits fop the Crooked River, but mostly sells to hobby farmers who need two or three acres. In this case, Aylward said, the price of $4,000 per acre “is a reasonable price for where they are.”

“In general that’s kind of a middling price, credits have sold for more than that and they’ve sold for less than that,” Aylward said. “It’s supply versus demand, so there are places like in the Middle Des-chutes zone, which is sort of the Bend/Redmond area, where there’s a lot more availability of water, so the price is less.”

Wendel said the $300,000 will come out of the system development charges that developers and new homeowners in Prineville pay for water, sewer and transportation costs.

“Basically the intent is new residents should pay for the new water sources that we need and new sewers and new water lines – existing residents should not have to pay for those,” Wendel said.

Gillham, the assistant city manager, said that buying water mitigation credits will be the city’s only option for expanding its water capacity in the future.

“You’re no longer going to get new water rights, all the water rights that are available are out there,” Gillham said. “So (for) agricultural irrigation water rights, as the city expands out onto those lands we need to find ways of buying the credits that those farmers had for irrigation and getting them so we can transfer them for municipal uses.”

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