The irrigation season is underway in Central Oregon, and residents will start to notice more water flowing down the Deschutes River and in the canals the river and its reservoirs feed.
The North Unit Irrigation District began letting more water into the Deschutes River from Wickiup Reservoir on Tuesday. The amount of water has steadily increased from around 100 cubic feet per second to around 375 cubic feet per second.
Conditions are being evaluated to determine when flows can be brought up to 600 cubic feet per second, according to Kyle Gorman, region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating Oregon spotted frog activity to determine when it is safe to allow more water into the river, Gorman said. Pushing too much water down the river at once can damage spotted frog breeding habitat.
Canal startup dates for various irrigation districts include North Unit (April 3), Central Oregon (April 5), Pilot Butte (April 7), Lone Pine (April 7), Arnold (April 11) and Tumalo (April 19).
Wickiup Reservoir on Friday was 58% full, the lowest level ever to start the irrigation season. Gorman is calling on all irrigation districts to be mindful of the water they draw into their canals.
“It will be imperative for all senior districts that draw water from the Deschutes River to be careful and conservative with their water use this year,” Gorman said. “To provide every acre-foot feasible to North Unit to help those irrigators through such a grim year.”
A weak snowpack in the Cascades and extremely low water levels at Wickiup Reservoir result in lower water allotments to patrons in North Unit Irrigation District, which serves largely Jefferson County farmers. That comes on top of last year’s reduced allotment, which forced farmers to fallow 20% to 30% of their acres, lowering revenue for both farmers and others in the agriculture equipment supply chain.