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Malheur County Irrigation Efficiency and Water Management Projects to Improve Water Quality
Summary
One source of water pollution in Oregon's rivers, lakes and streams is surface water runoff. This type of pollution is called "non-point source" pollution because it comes from a wide variety of sources, not from a single discharge pipe. It is difficult to identify specific sources for this type of pollution, but by working to improve watershed processes that influence surface water runoff, communities can work to improve the water quality of surface water runoff that enters their rivers, lakes, and streams.
 
The Malheur Watershed Council, the Malheur County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and their partners have been monitoring the water quality the rivers and streams in the Malheur basin intensively since 1998. The intention of this monitoring has been to discover general trends. It is has not been intended to draw conclusions about the causes of any water quality problems. Baseline water quality data is important to understand seasonal and spatial trends in water quality so that more specific monitoring and restoration actions can be identified and implemented. 
 
Since 2003, the Malheur SWCD has been monitoring 20 of the largest drains that empty into the Snake and Malheur Rivers. These drains capture irrigation tail water and storm water run-off from urban and rural lands. Their goals are to determine the differences among the drains in their contribution of sediment, nutrients and bacteria. If differences can be determined then the monitoring results will help to guide the district’s priorities in landowner  (one word) assistance, and help refine the Hells Canyon – Snake River Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) adopted by the EPA in 2004.
 
Besides monitoring the drains, rivers and streams in Malheur County, local groups and landowners are actively implementing restoration projects that help to reduce the sources of water quality problems to these rivers and streams. Restoration projects include the reduction of irrigation return flow through wetlands/ponds and pump-back systems (Willow Creek Water Quality Enhancement Final Report); upgrading irrigation systems to reduce irrigation-induced erosion, sedimentation to streams, and increase the efficiency of chemical applications to reduce runoff (Sunset Valley Irrigation Enhancement Project); and lining or piping delivery systems to reducing water loss and sediment delivery to rivers and streams (Willow Creek Water Quality Enhancement Final Report). May want to make this a few sentences and break out by each project. All these irrigation efficiency and water management efforts are contributing to improved water quality in this area. The Owyhee Watershed Council has worked with landowners to transition from flood to sprinkler irrigation to help reduce erosion, sedimentation, and make chemical applications more effective, thus preventing excessive chemical leaching and or runoff into local water sources.  Map of Projects (PDF)
 
OWEB Restoration Projects: 96
OWEB Restoration Dollars Awarded: $5,246,837
 
OWEB Monitoring Projects: 7
OWEB Monitoring Dollars Awarded: $283,742
 
Partners:
Oregon Department of Agriculture
Oregon State University Extension
Malheur SWCD
Malheur Watershed Council
Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board
NRCS
Owyhee Watershed Council
OSU-Malheur Experiment Station
 
Additional grant data on OWEB funded restoration and monitoring projects can be accessed through the OWEB Grant Management System (OGMS).

Reports
Willow Creek E. coli Paper (PDF)
 
A case study of small sediment basins to control irrigation-induced erosion in Willow Creek, Malheur County  (PDF)
 
Malheur Agricultural Drain Analysis (PDF)
 
Willow Creek Water Quality Enhancement Final Report (PDF)
 
Sunset Valley Irrigation Enhancement Project Final Report (PDF)