Katy Nesbitt
The La Grande Observer

ENTERPRISE — The formation of the Wallowa Lake Irrigation District is paving the way for the reconstruction of the Wallowa Lake Dam.

The Wallowa County Commissioners announced Monday the tally of votes from the water users within the boundaries of the district — 85 yes and 10 no votes were returned of the 230 ballots mailed in July. Now, the five ditch companies formerly known as the Associated Ditch Co. will function as a district governed by Oregon statute.

Dan Butterfield, the newly formed district’s president, said loans are now available through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund for large-scale irrigation modernization projects and rebuilding the dam that were not accessible to private ditch companies.

“Having a district will make it easier for us to rebuild the dam,” Butterfield said.

Until this week the five ditch companies operating under the umbrella of the Associated Ditch Co. were private entities. Jay McFetridge, a Wallowa Lake water user, said how votes among the irrigators were tallied as a private ditch company versus under the regulations of a district kept the idea from becoming a reality.

He said when his grandfather served as president of the ditch company in the late 1970s and early 1980s and when his father served in the same role in the 1990s, the worry was over the perceived lack of equitability how votes are tallied under the rules of a district versus the one vote per acre agreement the ditch company used.

“My dad said the biggest reason that it wouldn’t work, and why they would not pursue a district at all, was because of the voting,” McFetridge said.

This time the suggestion came from Nate James of the Natural Resource Conservation Service when he was asked to help the Associated Ditch Co. with an irrigation modernization plan.

“About a year ago we met with Nate to look at financing for piping spur ditches, screening the ditches and possibly even putting in water measuring devices,” Butterfield said.

See complete story in Friday's Observer