North Unit cuts water allotments to patrons amid historic heat wave

July 1, 2021
North Unit cuts water allotments to patrons amid historic heat wave

The North Unit Irrigation District, which serves Jefferson County farmland, has cut water allotments to patrons for the second time in less than two weeks in a move to conserve water.

In an emergency board meeting Wednesday, Deschutes River water rights holders in the district were reduced from 0.9 acre-feet per acre to 0.8 acre-feet per acre, according to Mike Britton, general manager of the district. Crooked River water rights holders were reduced from 0.4 acre-feet per acre to 0.3 acre-feet per acre.

Water allotments are already tight for North Unit patrons, who receive the smallest water allotments among irrigators in the Deschutes Basin. Many farmers have had to fallow 30% to 60% of their farmland this year in order to have enough water for their remaining crops.

The decision to cut water allotments this week follows earlier cuts made by the North Unit board on June 21. At that time the board cut Deschutes River allotments from 1 acre-feet to 0.9 acre-feet and Crooked River allotments from 0.5 acre-feet to 0.4 acre-feet.

That cut marked the first time since 1994 that North Unit changed its allotments in midseason.

In a typical water year, North Unit farmers get 2 acre-feet from the Deschutes River and 1 acre-foot from the Crooked River. But successive years of drought forced the district to cut the allotment by half this year.

“Everyone on the board decided it would be best for the district,” said North Unit board Chair Marty Richards, reflecting on the initial water cut. “People are upset and rightly so, but we have never been in this serious of a drought in the Deschutes Basin before.”

Gary Harris, owner of Harris Farms, which grows carrot seed and grass seed, is now out of water due to the cuts. He was hoping the water would last until the end of August, but his allotment is gone.

“I still have 60 acres of carrot seed that I am trying to keep wet. I have water running today, but as of tomorrow I am out of water,” said Harris. “I am done, but you never know, we could get a rain.”

As of Thursday, Wickiup Reservoir, which stores water for North Unit, was down to 35,979 acre-feet, or about 18% full. A year ago on the same day, the reservoir had 76,252 acre feet of water. In an average year, the reservoir would be filled to 133,208 acre-feet of water.

This week’s triple-digit heatwave has added to the stress on the land on the rivers.

“We didn’t expect a week of 110-degree weather in June,” said Britton. “We are doing the best we can with the situation.”


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An aerial view of a body of water.