▶️ Jefferson Co. farms face ‘worst year on record’ as water supply runs low

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Vern Bare, owner of Opal Springs Farms in Culver, usually grows crops on 1,200 acres of land.

But this year, Opal Springs is only irrigating 400 acres.

“Typically our operation brings in a little over $2 million annually,” Bare said. “This year, we’ll be lucky to get to $8 or $900,000.”

It’s a similar story just down the road at Macy Farms, where out of 1,800 acres, 800 acres are left idle.

“This is my 46th year farming in Central Oregon,” Richard Macy, owner of Macy Farms, said. “We’ve had some dry years and some hard years to get through, but this is by far one of the driest years I’ve seen.”

The reason: a lower than normal amount of water flowing from the Deschutes Basin into the North Unit Irrigation District, which provides water to nearly 59,000 acres of farmland in Jefferson County.

“This year is particularly bad and probably one of the worst years on record,” Mike Britton, general manager for the North Unit Irrigation District, said.

On Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order declaring a state of drought emergency in Deschutes and Jefferson Counties, directing the Department of Agriculture to assist the agricultural industry in both counties.

The executive order comes just as years of below-average rainfall and snowpack seem to be coming to a head this summer.

“North Unit and our farmers were starting out in a deficit before the season even started,” Britton said.

Farmers still face the same overhead costs while taking home just a portion of their usual profits. It could lead to financial ruin for some.

“We pay the same amount for our water whether we get a full allotment or not,” Bare said. “My water bill was over $100,000 and I got less than half of my allotment.”

Britton said farms in Jefferson County need several years of heavy rain and snowfall in the next few years, or many family farms could be permanently affected.

“My son asked me one day, ‘dad when will this change?'” Bare said. “I said, it will probably change when the public goes to the grocery store and can’t find food.”

Other ideas proposed to help improve the situation include more conservation efforts throughout the Deschutes Basin, and possibly redirecting more water from other districts to these farms.

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