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Conserving Water and Energy in the Deschutes Basin

The Three Sisters Irrigation District On-Farm and Renewable Energy project is funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This partnership project brings together NRCS Oregon, Three Sisters Irrigation District, Deschutes Soil and Water Conservation District, Deschutes River Conservancy, private landowners and numerous other partners to conserve water and reduce energy demands.

Learn more about the project and apply for funding here:


Drought is top of mind for producers located in Central Oregon. The Three Sisters Irrigation District, located in Sisters, Ore., spans 7,600 acres across the high desert land. Historically, water was diverted through open ditch canals pulling water from Whychus Creek and carrying it to lower elevations for use on farm. Water users previously used flood irrigation, which spread water from these open canals across crop fields. Flood irrigation is incredibly uneven and requires nearly twice as much water to adequately irrigate. About 55 percent of water moving through the open canal system was lost in transport, either through seepage or evaporation. This water loss was the catalyst to begin modernization efforts across Three Sisters Irrigation District.

To modernize the district, pipes were installed in open canals, conserving water previously lose to seepage and evaporation. Gravity pressurized water delivered through pipeline traveling from high to lower elevation allows irrigators to eliminate pumps, reducing energy use and related costs. The surplus water now in the water system can be used to produce hydropower or returns to Whychus Creek to support anadromous fish habitat and recreation. Before the modernization project, Whychus Creek used to run dry two out of every three summers. Since the project's completion, the creek flows all summer long.

Lazy Z Ranch, a regenerative bee farm owned and operated by John Herman, was once flood irrigated. Operating during a persistent drought encouraged John to work with NRCS Oregon and Three Sisters to install pivot sprinkler systems and hook up to the main irrigation pipeline. John significantly reduced the manual labor required previously to move big gun sprinklers around his property every few hours, and is now able to control his pivots from his phone while he enjoys his coffee from the porch. "We were in the middle of a drought, so we only had so much water we could use - and we were using it," John said. "Now that we've got the underground main line and these pivots, we can really be targeted irrigating so much more of our property with so much less water."

The Three Sisters Irrigation District has essentially achieved drought and climate resilience through this project and the modernization effort. The project serves as a shining example helping pave the way for other irrigation districts in the West battling drought and climate change impacts. "We could not have done this on our own. This [project] was a ton a people coming together to do this with and for us," John said. "It changes the way we farm. It has changed our lives."