Low snowpack levels threaten farmers

February 7, 2018
Low snowpack levels threaten farmers

Some irrigation districts at risk this year

By: Mike Allen

TUMALO, Ore. - Farmers in Central Oregon could take a hit because of low snowpack levels in the Cascades.

It's a complicated issue, in part because different irrigation districts have their own water storage methods.

Three Sisters Irrigation District, for example, relies heavily on healthy snowpack levels in order to keep serving farmers. If this year continues to see low snow levels, the district could be in trouble.

There is precedent to a year like this -- the dry winter of 2015. Up to this point in the year, though, it actually was not as dry as 2018 is so far.

"Potentially, it's a real problem, because in 2015, we basically delivered between 20 and 40 percent water the whole season," Three Sisters Irrigation District Manager Marc Thalacker said Wednesday.

He said farmers would bear the brunt of the water shortage, with some potentially having to idle half their acreage, unless they have access to supplemental water.

Low snowpack can affect non-farmers.

"It has an impact, especially on folks who own horses who buy hay from our farmers," Thalacker said. "It's got the potential to knock down hay supplies -- literally cut them in half."

Meanwhile, Tumalo Irrigation District will be just fine this year, and even next, if Central Oregon goes a long time without high snowpack levels, because of its access to Crescent Lake.

"Crescent Lake came off last year in very good condition, so it is close to being full right now," district Manager Ken Rieck said. "We will probably fill the reservoir before the spring melt is complete."

The Deschutes Basin watermaster said that, following on the heels of last year's huge snowpack levels, Central Oregon cities won't have a problem supplying water, unless the region sees several winters in a row like this.

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