Irrigation season begins with water surplus

April 19, 2022
Irrigation season begins with water surplus

Weather events and irrigation issues upstream combine for unexpected excess

By Pat KruisThe unseasonably cold and snowy weather helps the water picture for Jefferson County farmers, at least for the time being. In fact, the North Unit Irrigation District board met in an emergency meeting Monday, April 18, to decide how to handle the extra water. Yes, extra water. "I'm happy. We'll take it," said one of the board members on the telephone conference call. Too much supply and too little demand is filling up Haystack Reservoir. NUID General Manager Josh Bailey says Haystack will reach capacity in 5.3 days.

The board needs either to give that water to the farmers, or let it go back into the river. Part of the oversupply comes from Central Oregon Irrigation District. Emergency repairs on its new pipeline forced COID to spill up to 100 cubic feet per second to NUID for about a week. Bailey estimates NUID got about 600 acre feet of additional water. Farmers demand less water because with the recent colder, wetter weather reduced their immediate need. NUID allotted a meager .45 acre feet of water per acre this season, a fraction of what they usually get, so farmers want to use their share conservatively.

Bailey says in the past they'd solve this problem by slowing the release from the Wickiup Reservoir. "If COID had an issue, we'd tighten up the flow from Wickiup," said Bailey. Now the Habitat Conservation Plan requires North Unit to release at least 600 cfs from Wickiup to preserve aquatic habitat. Once water leaves the reservoir farmers either use it or lose it. "If anyone is able to use that water now," said another board member, "it keeps us from putting it back in the river. "Board members suggested farmers put some of the surplus water into holding ponds.

The board wants to make sure that water goes onto farmland. "There's enough deficit in the ground to get the water on the ground," said board chair Marty Richards. "There's a lot of dry ground out there," said board member Vern Bare.The snow in the mountains add promise for the balance of the season. What we witness happening on the surrounding mountains, Kyle Gorman measures for the Oregon Water Resources Department. "In March, our snowpack was rapidly melting," said Gorman. "With this change in the weather pattern we've gained some water in the snowpack.

The numbers are actually going up a little bit. "Gorman said that on Sunday, April 17, the water content average in the basin was back to where it was on Feb. 28. The basin is at about 65% of its snowpack maximum.Most importantly, the recent snowpack hasn't melted. "The snowpack is hanging on longer and will melt when we need it," said Gorman. Gorman estimates the addition moisture in the snowpack now could extend the Jefferson County irrigation season by a week or two.The NUID board plans to meet next week to discuss the possibility of increasing the season allotment of water.

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