At the Bend Whitewater Park on Thursday, surfers were enjoying higher water levels and better conditions for wave riding, thanks to greater outflow of water from the source at Wickiup Reservoir.
“I’m loving it man. I can’t complain,” said Surge Cutter, a 21-year-old firefighter who took time off to enjoy the water feature along with a half dozen other riders.
The amount of water discharged from Wickiup to the Deschutes River is based on the needs of farmers in Central Oregon. When temperatures heat up in summer, more water is released from the reservoir for crops — including alfalfa hay, wheat, grass seeds and potatoes — which means higher water levels on the Deschutes for recreation.
The water discharge was 1,122 cubic feet per second Thursday, a touch higher than the average of 1,089 cubic feet per second. A year ago on this date, the discharge stood at 1,420 cubic feet per second.
The current flow is higher than where it stood in late May when the cubic feet per second discharge fell to less than 700, according to a graph on the Bureau of Reclamation website.
“The last two weeks, it was super low. Every time you fell, you hit the bottom,” said Cutter, waxing his board. “It was about two feet deep, but right now, the weather is warming up, and they are flowing water through, so it’s super good now.”
That’s good news for kayakers paddling on the upper Deschutes.
The increased water flow “does make a difference for the whitewater paddler,” said Drew Oldfield, retail manager at Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe. “When there is more water, it’s faster, and it makes the rapids a little more challenging.”
When the weather is cool and wet, as it was in late May, demand for irrigation water among farmers is less, so the water is held back as a way to conserve the resource. When the irrigation districts call for more water, Deschutes County Watermaster Jeremy Griffin calls in changes to the dam tender at Wickiup.
“That person either adds more to the river or cuts back depending on the orders of Jeremy,” Kyle Gorman, manager for the south central region for the Oregon Water Resources Department, wrote in an email.
Wickiup Reservoir, which is 58% full, has struggled in recent years to reach full capacity, mainly due to a depleted groundwater table in the upper Deschutes. The groundwater table has been affected by a lower than average snowpack over the majority of the years since 2012, Gorman said.
Demand for water among Central Oregon farmers is expected to increase in the coming days.
“Irrigation demand has increased modestly over the last five days. We have seen a reduction in precipitation and an increase in temperature, save for today and tomorrow, but the forecast is showing a significant warming trend next week,” Gorman said.
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