By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Despite the drought, two local irrigation districts have resumed drawing water from the Deschutes River and delivering it to farmers and ranchers.
The resumption of water deliveries in the Arnold and Lone Pine Irrigation Districts is the result of the Central Oregon Irrigation District scaling back its water use and shutting down early for a major construction project.
At 1% of capacity, Wickiup Reservoir–Central Oregon’s largest irrigation storage reservoir–is a shadow of it’s former self.
It is essentially empty with the Deschutes River flowing through its original channel at the bottom of the basin.
Despite this, two irrigation districts–Arnold in Bend and Lone Pine near Terrebonne– resumed water deliveries because their rights are based on live flows in the river, not storage levels in Wickiup Reservoir.
“As of the 15th or today, natural flow rights change in the Deschutes River allowing junior water rights holders to turn back on,” said Colin Wills, Arnold Irrigation District Manager. “We will be sending our full allocation to our patrons for the rest of the season.”
Arnold Irrigation District shut down a month ago, forcing Marvin Wodtli to buy nearly 30,000 gallons of water to keep his first year crop of lavendar alive.
Across the street, Mike Penhollow paid more than $250 a ton for hay he would have grown himself to feed his cattle and horses had water been available.
“What you’ll see is North Unit use Haystack Reservoir which they have. And you’ll see North Unit start to pick up some live flow off the river, but there is no more storage in Wickiup, this is the lowest it’s ever been,” said Craig Horrell, Central Oregon Irrigation District Manager.
The Central Oregon Irrigation District is shutting down early this year to begin a $30 million canal piping project that could save so much water the North Unit Irrigation District might not be as dependent on Wickiup Reservoir in the future.
All eight irrigation districts in the upper Deschutes Basin are investing in conservation projects that could turn the tide on drought conditions.
“All of these meant to generate water that’s lost in these inefficient systems and place it back in the river where it’s supposed to be,” Horrell said.
Drafts of the Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan and its Environmental Impact Statement are scheduled to be published October 4th.
Public comments will be accepted.