Central Oregon farmers could experience water shortages later this growing season due to drought conditions that have persisted in the region for several years, according to a recent Bend Bulletin report.
Reservoir levels in the area are currently at or near historic lows. This leaves less water available for farmers, which could force many to leave portions of their farmland fallow.
Wickiup Reservoir, which supplies water to the North Unit Irrigation District, started the irrigation season at 70% capacity—its second lowest amount on record.
No Central Oregon irrigation district has completely run out of water since 1994. However, some districts have been forced to restrict water supplies to customers in recent years.
The projected shortage comes in spite of the cooler temperatures and consistent rainfall of recent weeks.
“The downpours really do not help because they are generally not widespread enough,” said Central Oregon Watermaster Jeremy Giffin. “It is the wintertime snowpack that we need since it recharges the aquifer.”
“It takes several years to deplete the springs and several years to fill them back up,” said Giffin. “I think we need to be well above average for more than two years to get us back to normal.”
Snowpack accumulated over the 2019-20 winter in Central Oregon was 58% of average as of May 1, according to the Bulletin report.
Commenting on how this year’s shortage could be an effect of climate change, OSU associate professor Larry O’Neill claims, “There is a trend in the U.S. West toward longer and more frequent drought conditions. The droughts in the last 20 years or so that we’ve experienced in Oregon may be part of this long term drying trend.”
By JD Brookbank