Notes from the Field - Takeaways from the Central Oregon Farm Fair

February 4, 2022
Notes from the Field - Takeaways from the Central Oregon Farm Fair

By Gen Hubert, Senior Programs ManagerThe 42 annual Central Oregon Farm Fair at Jefferson County Fairgrounds (Feb. 3 & 4) was well attended by farmers seeking information about their water supply for the coming year, programs to improve conservation practices, reports on crop research, and re-certifications for safe use of on-farm chemicals. Here are our takeaways from the two days of seminars and discussions.

  • The 59,000 acres of farmland in Jefferson County surrounding Madras rely on water rights that have a junior priority date. When water supplies are low, senior water rights receive their water first – with any available remaining water going to the junior water rights holders.
  • Farmers in Jefferson County are facing another difficult year ahead, with current water supplies sitting even below last year’s record low supplies.
  • What conditions influence the efficient use of water and water supplies?
    1. Soil moisture – starting with low soil moisture means more water is needed to wet soils at the beginning of the growing season. Cover crops contribute to soil health and soil capacity to hold water and prevent erosion (loss of productive topsoil).
    2. Natural springs supply flow to our rivers and water to our reservoirs. When these springs produce less water, our streams are impacted – with flows far below normal for several years now.
    3. Low elevation snowpack. The amount of snowpack around Crescent Lake and in the Little Deschutes area has a tremendous impact on springs contribute to the Little Deschutes River and Fall River – both of which contribute to Deschutes River flows.
    4. The Crooked River basin has very different soils than the Upper Deschutes. A strong series of rainstorms can create significant run-off which can subsequently fill Ochoco and Prineville Reservoirs. This degree of runoff does not occur in the Upper Deschutes River system.
  • Deschutes Water Bank - DRC is working on a program with Central Oregon Irrigation District, the largest senior water rights holder on the Deschutes River (in Central Oregon) that will allow their farmers to be compensated for sharing water with farmers in North Unit Irrigation District. Irrigators in COID have until February 15th to sign up to share water. Find more information about the Deschutes Water Bank on the Deschutes River Conservancy's website. You can’t participate in the Water Bank? What else can you do? Your water right is a “not-to-exceed” use of water. If you need less water than the “not-to-exceed” amount, you can use less water without threat to your water right. Use of less than the maximum amount of water is still considered “beneficial use” of the water – provided you have the capacity to take the full amount of water at some point, you use your water at least once in every 5-year period of time (an instream lease can satisfy this use requirement too), the water is used in the footprint of the mapped water right. You can even use your water for only part of an irrigation season and still satisfy “beneficial use” (keep records of what was grown). Use your water carefully and responsibly.
  • What about your irrigation district water user assessments in years of drought? Unfortunately, these assessments still must be paid during times of low water supply. The district assessments cover the cost of maintaining and repairing the infrastructure required to deliver water 100+-year-old canal systems in central Oregon. The assessments also pay for the staff needed to maintain, manage, and monitor deliveries to farms. The All of these costs still exist in times of shortage and some costs may be higher – as it can be more difficult to manage lower volumes of water.
  • The Habitat Conservation Plan protects the districts from further lawsuits surrounding listed species (steelhead and Oregon spotted frog) so long as the districts continue to work toward benchmarks over time. Working together to meet goals is far better than continuous shutdown and litigation as is being experienced in the Klamath Basin.
  • There are various assistance programs for farmers impacted by drought. Check with your irrigation district, with the Oregon Department of Agriculture (the Oregon Disaster Assistance Program), with the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board drought resiliency assistance, and your local Soil and Water Conservation District.
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