Warm weather creates conditions for higher flows out of Wickiup

May 2, 2020
Warm weather creates conditions for higher flows out of Wickiup

Outflow from reservoir 9% higher than average

By Michael Kohn

Water is being released from Wickiup Reservoir at rates that are higher than average due to warm spring weather that is creating a need for more water by irrigators.

The amount of water released from Wickiup was 855 cubic feet per second this week according to the Bureau of Reclamation website, compared to an average release of 787 cubic feet per second, an increase of nearly 9%.

Water from Wickiup flows into the Deschutes River. In the Bend area, some of the river’s water is diverted into canals that provide irrigation water for farms, ranches and private properties across Central Oregon.

When water is released at amounts higher than average, it’s typically because farmers are calling for more water for their crops, due to warm weather and a lack of rain. The outflow is also determined by how much water is flowing through the Little Deschutes River, a tributary of the Deschutes.

“This spring has been really dry and relatively warm, so the demand for water is higher than average,” said Kyle Gorman, region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department. “The Little Deschutes is running below average so there is a need to release more from Wickiup to make up the deficit.”

The release of water from Wickiup typically reaches its highest levels in mid-July, when the average release tops 1,500 cubic feet per second.

Larger releases into the Deschutes not only provide more water for farmers — it also means more water for kayakers, boaters, anglers and other river users.

“There’s more water so that means more access to different areas as the water comes up again,” said Geoff Frank, owner of Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, a Bend-based paddle gear outfitter.

“There’s a little bit more current in town so paddling upstream means more current to paddle against but not much. The increased flow has also brought out more surfers to the White Water Park.”

Higher releases are also beneficial for wildlife such as the Oregon spotted frog, which inhabit the banks of the river and fair poorly when the river levels fall to low levels in winter, as low as 105 cubic feet per second.

Wickiup this year reached a capacity of 141,317 acre-feet on March 31. This amount is 30% lower than its holding capacity of 200,000 acre-feet.

The lower water levels in Wickiup are attributed to prolonged drought conditions in Central Oregon and reduced snowpack. In recent years, greater amounts of water have also been released from Wickiup in winter to support Oregon spotted frog habitat. These factors have prevented the reservoir from reaching its capacity.

Current snowpack in the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River region is just 61% of average. In Central Oregon, snowpack is typically a good indication of whether or not Wickiup can fill in the following year, since the reservoir’s fill rate is dependent more on groundwater than snowmelt. The low snowpack indicates that Wickiup may not fill again in 2021, but Gorman says it’s still too early to come to that conclusion.

“Things will become much clearer as we end the irrigation season,” he said.

Reporter: 541-617-7818,

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