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FROM: Farmers Conservation Alliance (FCA)
14 Oak Street, Suite 302, Hood River, Oregon 97031   •   541.716.6085
CONTACT: Genevieve Scholl-Erdmann, Outreach Manager,


New case study released on hydropower generation potential within existing irrigation infrastructure

HOOD RIVER, OR – It’s a good bet that the last time you flipped a light switch, you didn’t think about sprinklers. It’s an equally good bet that the last time you had a discussion about hydropower, the talk focused much more on the perils facing migrating salmon than on pear trees. But in Hood River, Oregon, water that is flowing inside irrigation systems on its way to the sprinklers dousing acres of pear trees is also turning turbine blades during its trip to the farm.

This is hydropower generation occurring outside of the river system – away from the natural habitat of fish and other species and (unlike the large, river-spanning dams we are all accustomed to hearing about) not impeding their safe passage during migrations. Furthermore, the revenue created by that hydropower is being used to fund water conservation and river restoration projects that protect and improve habitat for resident and endangered fish species. This introduces a new dimension to the hydropower discussion.

A newly published case study sponsored by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and Energy Trust of Oregon takes a close look at this new element of the hydropower picture – hydropower generation occurring away from the natural river system, in pre-existing irrigation infrastructure.  The study, authored by Hood River firm Farmers Conservation Alliance (FCA), examines the cumulative effects of small-scale hydropower generation by two irrigation districts on the Hood River watershed over the past 30 years. Energy Trust Program Manager Jed Jorgensen explains the impetus for the study:

“Energy Trust is dedicated to helping utility customers benefit from saving energy and generating renewable energy. Hydropower projects utilizing irrigation district infrastructure have been a focus for Energy Trust because the projects can generate renewable energy while often creating other environmental benefits, such as putting water back in-stream for fish. Through this study, we are able to share the full range of benefits that can be experienced both by irrigation districts and the environment from irrigation hydro projects. This study will be a valuable resource for irrigation districts who are considering adding hydropower, as well as for natural resource agencies and other interested parties who need to evaluate the impacts of irrigation hydro.”

The study reports a measured positive impact on fish from these projects in the Hood River watershed, “…realized through the generation of nearly $90 million in revenue that funded infrastructure improvements leading to increased summer stream flows, installation of fish screens, removal of passage barriers, and increased collaboration within the watershed community.”

The irrigation and hydropower generation systems of the Farmers Irrigation District (FID) and the Middle Fork Irrigation District (MFID) are both examined, with outcomes and impacts related to energy, water, watershed restoration, and the local economy provided in detail. The study states that, in Oregon, there are currently only 20 hydropower systems installed within irrigation water delivery systems. Characterizing FCA’s findings within the context of the broader public discourse on hydropower, study author Les Perkins states, “Within the category of small hydro, projects located within existing irrigation systems are of particular interest due to the opportunity to use an existing resource for an additional benefit.”

The study, “Cumulative Watershed Impacts of Small-Scale Hydroelectric Projects in Irrigation Delivery Systems: A Case Study,” is available for free, immediate download via FCA’s website at Irrigation districts interested in evaluating their diversion sites and systems for off-stream hydropower generation potential can contact FCA’s Les Perkins at or by calling 541.716.6085. ###