Wickiup Reservoir has approximately six weeks’ worth of water reserves. Unless there is substantial rainfall over the next six weeks, patrons of North Unit Irrigation District in Jefferson County will see their water delivery shut down at the earliest date in the district’s history.
Around Aug. 18, Wickiup Reservoir will fall to 2,500 acre-feet, a level the irrigation districts have stated they will stop the release of water. By around Aug. 20, North Unit Irrigation District will stop delivering water from Haystack Reservoir, which collects water after its long journey through canals from the Upper Deschutes River.
This will essentially end irrigation on thousands of acres of Central Oregon’s most productive farmland for the season.
Irrigation districts in Central Oregon have been hit hard this year by drought and weak snowpack that is reducing the amount of water allotted to irrigators. Farmers are using half as much water as normal, forcing many to fallow large swaths of their farmland. Some farms are on the brink of closure due to the high cost associated with maintaining the fallow ground, and lower crop production.
Josh Bailey, the general manager of North Unit Irrigation District, informed North Unit patrons of the water reserves in a letter sent on Wednesday.
“This year’s shutdown will hurt the seed farmers really, really hard,” Bailey wrote. “Typically, the end of the season is October 15th.”
Jefferson County grows many seed crops including grass seed, carrot seed and onion seed. According to the University of Oregon, approximately 55% of the U.S. domestic market carrot variety seed is grown in Jefferson County, and 45% of the global market carrot variety seed.
Bailey said the flow of water may restart in October with live flow in the Deschutes River that Central Oregon Irrigation District, which serves parts of Deschutes and Crook counties, will no longer be utilizing.
By halting the release of water from Wickiup Reservoir at 2,500 acre-feet, irrigation officials hope to prevent turbidity in the Deschutes River.
Turbidity is sediment suspended in water and can negatively affect aquatic life by blocking out sunlight needed for plants. Turbidity was present in September of last year after Wickiup ran out of water and sediment flowed out of the reservoir into the Deschutes.
Wickiup also ran out of water in 2018. But the reservoir has been running low due to prolonged drought dating back to 2015. The reservoir is 15% full, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
This year North Unit cut its delivery amounts for the first time since 1994. The water year began with patrons being told they would receive 1 acre-foot of water. Drought in Central Oregon forced the district in recent months to cut the delivered amount by 20%, to 0.8 acre-feet of water.