Sisters-area irrigation district seeks drought help

April 26, 2015
Sisters-area irrigation district seeks drought help

Deschutes County expected to request drought declaration for the district this week

By Ted Shorack / The Bulletin / @tjshorack

Farmers and ranchers who receive water from the Three Sisters Irrigation District could be facing heavy losses this year because of unprecedented low snowpack levels.

Marc Thalacker, district manager, said Friday the lack of water from Whychus Creek could result in up to $1.5 million in lost revenue for water right owners. Most of the water is used to produce hay.

The potential losses would affect approximately 8,000 acres that make up the district in the Sisters, Cloverdale and the Lower Bridge area.

The Deschutes County Commission will consider a resolution Wednesday declaring a localized state of emergency within the district, which the district requested, and asking Gov. Kate Brown to declare a drought emergency.

The state declaration can generate emergency water use permits through the Oregon Water Resources Department and make available other drought assistance programs to alleviate the situation for farmers and ranchers.

Thalacker, who has been the district manager since 1997, said there have been two less severe droughts in his time working for the district.

“They weren’t anywhere close to what this is,” he said.

Whychus Creek is fed by snowmelt and runoff from the Three Sisters peaks. Recent measurements show snowpack levels in northwest Deschutes County are at record lows.

In April 1977, the Natural Resources Conservation Service measured 8 inches of snow water content at a gauge located at 5,650-feet elevation. The lack of snow generated a drought emergency declaration.

The snow water content currently at the site, southwest of Sisters, is only 0.3 inches. The average snow water measured there in April is 17 to 18 inches, according to the conservation service.

Other irrigation districts throughout Central Oregon are likely to be better off this year, even with a mild winter, because they rely on reservoirs.

Federal assistance loans and grants could become available for water right owners in the Three Sisters district in addition to state aid, Thalacker said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,

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