As we enter the dog days of August, the ongoing heat and lack of precipitation are intensifying the drought gripping our region.
People often ask, how can there be a drought? The river looks full.
The water levels in the river are inflated with irrigation water being delivered to farmers downstream. As the supply of irrigation water dries up, the river levels in downtown Bend will drop accordingly.
“It’s an extremely bad year. The third year in a row,” said Jeremy Giffin, Deschutes Basin Water Master. “The Arnold Irrigation District has already shut off approximately two weeks ago on July 24. We are anticipating the Ochoco Irrigation District out in Prineville to be out of a water by about September 1. The North Unit Irrigation District up in Madras will likely run out of water in Wickiup Reservoir in late September.”
Most of Central Oregon is in extreme or exceptional drought. Under these conditions, wildfire activity increases, irrigation water is scare, pumping of well water increases and wells are going dry.
“Natural flows of the river are very low and reservoir contents are extremely low. Four of the five large irrigation district reservoirs are below 20%. Those reservoirs will likely be at or near empty by the end of this irrigation season,” Giffin said.
The water master says it will take more than one big winter to refill reservoirs, recharge springs, reinvigorate streamflows and improve soil moisture conditions.
Another frequently asked question is: Why are irrigation canals full of water if there’s a drought?
It’s because as long as the irrigation districts have water to share with farmers, they will keep the canals full. It’s the most efficient way to deliver water through the hundreds of miles of canals.
Water levels in the canals will drop abruptly as irrigation districts run out of water.