Irrigation District Addresses Dry Conditions Through Water Leasing Pilot Program

January 25, 2021
Irrigation District Addresses Dry Conditions  Through Water Leasing Pilot Program

Prineville farmers facing another year of drought have options this year to share water with others, as well as benefitting river flows.

In the Prineville Valley, Ochoco Irrigation District plans a novel approach to meeting water needs this summer. The district relies on water stored in Prineville and Ochoco Reservoirs, both of which are well below average water levels for this time of year. Though winter and spring storms may yet bring enough precipitation to support a full allocation of water for area agriculture, the district is also offering a new water leasing program designed to help irrigators manage water in case of limited supply.

The program will allow irrigators with ten or more acres to lease water on a temporary basis from other OID farmers. Farmers who are in position to provide water to the program instead of irrigating will receive a premium “dry-year” payment rate that is higher than the amount offered in a long-running district annual instream leasing program. The higher price paid for water is expected to attract more participation – and water supply – which can then be reallocated as additional supply to help water-short farmers. Any enrolled water that farmers are not interested in leasing will be left in the Crooked River to support fish and wildlife.

OID is offering the program in collaboration with the Deschutes River Conservancy. “We’ve been working with the DRC on instream leasing for the better part of 20-years. Expanding the program so that farmers can get the water they need in dry years is the next step, and one we’re proud to take”, said OID manager Bruce Scanlon. “It fits well alongside conservation projects and other district priorities that will position us to continue to serve our patrons into the future.”

Additional information is available on the Ochoco Irrigation District website:

"We're excited about where this program could lead. We've had a very successful leasing program for over 20 years and adding a dry-year leasing option is just the first of many steps we're taking at the DRC to make sharing water in the basin a more broadly accessible program.” DRC Program Manager, Natasha Bellis said. “Making lasting streamflow restoration in the Deschutes River Basin will require many tools, leasing being just one."

About the Deschutes River Conservancy: Twenty-five years ago, the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) formed with a mission to restore streamflow and improve water quality in the Deschutes River Basin. The DRC specializes in programs and projects that employ voluntary, market-based incentives to restore flows. The DRC is non-litigious and serves as leaders and facilitators of basin-wide water management conversations. The board is comprised of key private and public stakeholders in the basin. The organization has worked with eight irrigation districts and over 200 landowners to restore over 208 cubic feet per second of streamflow to the basin’s rivers and streams.

About Ochoco Irrigation Distirct (OID): It is OID’s mission to effectively and efficiently serve the current and future irrigation needs of our patrons by economically operating and maintaining the districts resources with honesty and integrity. OID supplies water to 20,062 acres of irrigated land in the Prineville area. Water is stored in the Ochoco and Prineville Reservoirs, and then released into Ochoco Canal, Ochoco Creek and the Crooked River during irrigation season. Irrigation season normally runs from April 15th to October 15th, but water supplies and weather conditions may result in a shortened or lengthened season.

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