Ranchers and farmers eye faster snowmelt


Last updated 7/11/2023 at 9:52am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

An old irrigation gate along Whychus Creek.

Central Oregon Irrigation District (COID) has turned down the water flow. Established in 1918, the District's system consists of two main canals: the Pilot Butte Canal, which runs north, through Bend, Redmond and Terrebonne; and the Central Oregon Canal, which runs east, through Bend, Alfalfa and Powell Butte.

Both canals divert water from the Deschutes River providing water for about 45,000 acres within a 180,000 acre area in Central Oregon. More than 700 miles of canals provide agricultural and industrial water to the Terrebonne, Redmond, Bend, Alfalfa and Powell Butte areas. In addition, COID provides water to the City of Redmond and numerous subdivisions; in Bend, many parks and schools receive water through the COID system.

For farmers and ranchers in Sisters Country the spigots are still wide open flowing at 100 percent - but that's subject to change literally any day. It depends entirely on the rate of snow melt at Black Crater and the "big bucket," an area of snow between north and middle Sisters.

Last year, a dry one, Three Sisters Irrigation District ran at 100 percent into August.

"Not seeing that'll be the case this year," District Manager, Marc Thalacker told The Nugget. "Could be. Could not. Just can't say with any certainty."

Sisters sits in the Upper Deschutes/Crooked Basin and the basin index stood at 89 percent of median precipitation last Friday for the water year. The Owyhee basin by comparison is at 113 percent, Malheur at 110 percent, John Day at 105 percent and usually hard-hit Klamath Basin sat at 102 percent.

As recently as May 1, the snowpack for Sisters stood at 158 percent of normal. It dropped rapidly in May and June.

"These warm days mean faster melt," Thalacker said.

Our neighbors in Prineville suffered badly in 2021 and 2022. This year is a better start for them with the tri-county's largest reservoir, Prineville, 89 percent full, triple a year ago. The Ochoco reservoir is at 63 percent of capacity and Haystack is registering 88 percent. These are relatively healthy levels for mid-July.

Cloverdale farmers are cautiously optimistic. Situated east of the Cascade foothills in an area running northeast from Whychus Creek through the Cloverdale area, and down McKenzie Canyon to Lower Bridge, the Three Sisters Irrigation District provides irrigation water to the 7,572 acres of certified water rights appurtenant to land owned by farming and ranching interests located within its boundaries.

A year ago the bulk of Deschutes County registered D4 (Exceptional Drought) for almost the entire summer. Sisters is currently sitting at D1 (Moderate) and Bend, Redmond and Prineville are clocking in at D2 (Severe). Sisters did not record a 90-degree temperature for June until the very last day, June 30, when it hit 92.

Temps have remained pleasant, in the high 80s for most of July. 90s are not forecast until July 15 - both a blessing for farmers dependent on the snowpack and Quilt Show visitors who were complementing the streak of favorable temperatures.


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