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Irrigation Efficiency and Water Management


In 2006 OWEB met with the Water Resources Department, watershed councils, SWCDs, Department of Agriculture, Oregon Water Trust, Natural Resources Conservation District, OSU, and Deschutes River Conservancy to discuss how to evaluate irrigation efficiency and water management projects. This first step helped OWEB move forward in the development of its irrigation efficiency/water management effectiveness monitoring program. Other steps identified at the meeting included:

  • Clearly define what OWEB means by irrigation efficiency.
  • Create a draft of OWEB’s irrigation efficiency restoration and monitoring objectives.
  • Draft monitoring standards for irrigation efficiency effectiveness monitoring projects.
  • Find existing data so as not to recreate it. (This was completed in Malheur Basin -- see below.)

OWEB has funded several irrigation improvement restoration projects with effectiveness monitoring components. Willow Creek Restoration (207-138) and Middle Deschutes Streamflow Restoration (207-096 and 207-319) conducted water quality and quantity effectiveness monitoring.

Irrigation system projects improved water conservation and quality:

  • Canal lining or piping
  • Conversion of gravity diversions to pumps or infiltration galleries
  • Installation of soil moisture probes
  • Irrigation system improvements (i.e. flood to sprinkler, sprinkler to drip)
  • Installation of pump-back system
  • Construction of settling ponds or wetlands to capture/filter irrigation runoff
  • Irrigation system improvements (i.e. flood to sprinkler, sprinkler to drip)

Water leases or transfers protected instream flow.​​

Malheur County Projects to Improve Water Quality

Surface water runoff is called “non-point source pollution” because it comes from a wide variety of sources rather than from a single discharge pipe. Since it can be difficult to identify the many sources, communities can work to improve watershed processes that influence surface water runoff quality and thus improve quality of water entering rivers, lakes, and streams.

The Malheur Watershed Council, the Malheur County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), and their partners have been intensively monitoring the water quality of the rivers and streams in the Malheur basin since 1998. The intention of this monitoring has been to discover general trends rather than to draw conclusions about the causes of 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. The drains capture irrigation tail water and storm water runoff from urban and rural lands. The monitoring goals are to determine the differences among the drains in their contribution of sediment, nutrients, and bacteria. If differences can be determined, the monitoring results will help guide the district’s priorities in landowner 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 implementing restoration projects that help reduce the sources of water quality problems to these rivers and streams.​

Willow Creek Water Quality Enhancement Projects

Reduced irrigation return flow through wetlands, ponds, and pump-back systems.

Sunset Valley Irrigation Enhancement Projects

Reduced irrigation-induced erosion and sedimentation to streams by upgrading irrigation systems, and reduced runoff by increasing the efficiency of chemical applications.

Willow Creek Water Quality Enhancement Project

Reduced water loss and sediment delivery to rivers and streams by lining or piping delivery systems.

Such irrigation efficiency and wa​ter management efforts have contributed to improved water quality in the area. The Owyhee Watershed Council has worked with landowners to transition to practices that reduce erosion, sedimentation, and chemical application runoff.

OWEB Restoration Projects

96 projects with a total of $5,246,837 awarded

OWEB Monitoring Projects

7 projects with a total of $283,742 awarded

Additional grant data on OWEB funded restoration and monitoring projects can be accessed through the OWEB Grant Management System (OGMS).


  • 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​


Please direct questions or comments to Ken Fetcho, Effectiveness Monitoring Coordinator, 971-345-7018.