Three Sisters cuts ribbon at 700-kW Watson hydropower project

Officials from a number of state agencies joined the Three Sisters Irrigation District and Energy Trust of Oregon to inaugurate the 700-KW Watson hydropower plant earlier this month.

The Watson project uses pressure from recently installed irrigation pipes, while simultaneously delivering water to farmers in the Deschutes Basin and maintaining flows in Whychys Creek.

The small hydropower plant is part of a decade-long water saving initiative in which TSID worked with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Deschutes River Conservancy, Energy Trust of Oregon and others to install over 50 miles of pipe in more than 75% of the district’s canals.

“The work done by Three Sisters Irrigation District is a powerful example of how irrigation modernization can address multiple challenges and provide multiple benefits,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. “The potential exists over the next decade for irrigation districts across the state to upgrade to more modern infrastructure, saving water, restoring streams and generating green, renewable energy.”

The conversion has allowed the district to remove more than 100 irrigator pumps while still maintaining water delivery amidst drought conditions. Stream flows for the basin’s fish population have also improved, according to TSID.

“For the first time since the late 1800s, there was summertime flow in Whycus Creek for salmon and steelhead,” said Marc Thalacker, TSID general manager. “We have 25% more water on farm compared to the 1977 drought, and we are generating clean, green, renewable power and conserving energy.”

TSID has leveraged financing from a number of sources for the $25 million irrigation system modernization project, with sources including the Pelton Fund, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Energy Trust.

“Other Oregon irrigation districts will benefit from the many benefits demonstrated through the Three Sisters Irrigation District project,” said Peter West, director of energy programs for the Energy Trust.

Revenues generated by the Watson hydropower plant will help pay back a loan from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Clean Water State Revolving Fund that financed an earlier TSID piping project.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for

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