How are Central Oregon's drought and reservoir water levels faring?

January 12, 2021
How are Central Oregon's drought and reservoir water levels faring?

At the end of the 2020 irrigation season, the water level was at an all-time low at Wickiup Reservoir -- in fact, all of Central Oregon irrigation reservoirs were well below average.

Deschutes Basin Watermaster Jeremy Giffin said recently, "Half of Central Oregon is in extreme drought. The other half is in a severe drought."

There are five main irrigation reservoirs which store water for Central Oregon: Ochoco, Prineville, Wickiup, Crescent Lake and Crane Prairie.

As of Tuesday, Ochoco was 13% full, Prineville was 32%, Wickiup was 37%, Crescent Lake was 26%, and Crane Prairie was 80%, but Crane Prairie is being kept artificially high to assist the Deschutes River habitat of the Oregon spotted frog.

"Wickiup Reservoir we drained completely at the end of the 2020 irrigation season," Giffin said.

"For Crescent Lake, we ended the season with about 21,000 acre-feet. We're up to 22,000, so obviously it's filling extremely slow, and we don't expect to fill that as much as in an average year, either," he said.

As of Tuesday, the basin's snowpack is at 96% of normal for this time of the year, and around 87% of average, in terms of precipitation.

"The remainder of the season, we're expected to be above-average precipitation, which will be great," Giffin said. "But because of the dire straits the rivers and reservoirs are in, Central Oregon -- even if we are above average this year -- we will not be above average for our irrigation supplies for the next summer."

What does this mean for Central Oregon?

"If you are living within the city of Bend and you're hooked up to Avion water or the city of Bend water, you probably won't see a difference than normal," Giffin said. "If you're an irrigator within one of the irrigation districts, they are running on low supplies, and they may be in curtailments this summer."

Giffin told NewsChannel 21 we have not had a start to the irrigation season with so little water, and there are water rights in Central Oregon that have been in place for more than 100 years.

Irrigation districts, cities and individuals have stored water that belongs to them. That water right is issued by the Oregon Water Resources Department and allows them to take a certain amount of water out of the river or the aquifer through the irrigation season.

When water levels are low in the winter, that means water is being stored. When it rises in the summer, it's solely due to irrigation demand.

Bottom line: Even with a good snowpack outlook for the rest of this winter, it's going to take several years of above-average precipitation to get us out of drought status.

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