The drought is coming home to roost for people who depend on surface water to irrigate their crops and feed their animals.
We visited a small, family-owned farm near Tumalo that is trying to figure out how to get by with half their usual water.
“These are my oldest son’s 4-H goats: Pistol and Rosie, and here comes Bomber….”
Shan Rae Hawkins and her family own a 7-acre property near Tumalo.
Three acres of the property are irrigated pasture, which is where they feed their goats, mule and horses.
“Water is everything,” Hawkins said. “When you have property you rely on it to raise pasture, feed animals, grow crops. It’s liquid gold. Without it, everything dries up.”
The Hawkins are currently receiving about 2/3rds the amount of water they usually get this time of year.
Sometime soon, the Hawkins and and 600 other customers of the Tumalo Irrigation District will begin a 7 day water on and 7 day water off rotation.
“We really don’t know what’s going to happen with the pasture. We will do our best to be as efficient as possible which we always try to be anyway with our water. Until we get into it and see what that rotation is like, I think we are going to have to play around with it and see how often we can move our sprinklers to try and keep it from burning up.”
Without productive pasture to feed their animals, the Hawkins are looking for hay to feed their animals at the same time as everybody else so hay prices are up.
Simultaneously, the drought is reducing hay production, further fueling demand and forcing farmers to get creative.
One of the ways the Hawkins have identified to become more efficient is to line their irrigation pond so the water doesn’t seep into the soil before they can spray it on their pasture.
Variations of this scenario are playing out for more than 9,000 farmers and ranchers in Central Oregon who are seeing reductions in their irrigation water.
“We are going to do the best we can not only to get ourselves through the season, but to help our neighbors who need maybe more than we do for an even more essential use that we do,” Hawkins said.
Irrigation districts are trying to figure out ways to share water while operating within the constraints of the recently adopted Habitat Conservation Plan that requires water stays in rivers and reservoirs for endangered species.
Details on those plans are forthcoming.