The earlier-than-normal close this year was due to cooler temperatures and a wet fall

by: JASON CHANEY - When Ochoco Reservoir is at a more typical level, the dock shown in this photo would be floating on top of the water.

The Ochoco Irrigation District (OID) closed the irrigation season earlier than normal this year.

Citing cool temperatures and wet weather, OID shut down the Ochoco Canal on Sept. 30, and the Crooked River Canal on Oct. 1.

OID had planned on shutting down the canals on Oct. 7.

“The weather cooled off, a substantial rain hit similar to a final irrigation, and we didn’t have any (patron) orders for some time, so we opted to shut off,” said Mike Kasberger, General Manager of the OID.

Kasberger feels that this was a successful irrigation season, particularly given that, at the start of the season, he wasn’t sure there was going to be enough water for all irrigators. The OID depends on a large snow pack each winter to fill the local reservoirs.

“We started out the season with very little inflow (to the reservoirs). The snowpack went away quickly and didn’t yield a lot of water for the reservoirs. We did fill on the Bowman side (Prineville Reservoir), but the Ochoco Reservoir only went up to 35,000 acre feet, out of a capacity of 44,247 acre feet.”

The Bureau of Reclamation’s (BOR) web site lists historical water volumes in all the major storage reservoirs in the Deschutes River Basin. As of April 1, the Ochoco Reservoir was only 67 percent full — 29,796 acre feet out of a possible 44,247. The Prineville Reservoir was 95 percent full — 141,161 acre feet out of a possible 148,640.

Kasberger has never seen the water level this low in his seven years as General Manager.

“It’s the driest I’ve seen in my time here; up until this year I’ve seen increasing reservoir levels every year.”

Some of the melting snow pack last spring didn't make it to the reservoirs, causing the shortfall.

“It looked like we were going to have enough snow, but right at the very end the snow came off slow and pretty much went right into the ground (not into the reservoirs. So we really didn’t know where we were going to be as the season got going,” said Kasberger.

Kasberger’s team at the OID informed their patrons (irrigators) that water levels were lower than normal and that conservation practices would make the water last throughout the season for everyone.

“We didn’t have to curtail water allocations at all. A lot of very conscientious irrigators didn’t use water as heavy as they have in other years. Everybody understood it was a dry year and they did what they could to make the water work for the whole season.”

Voluntary conservation practices worked and the lower overall quantity of water was sufficient for every irrigator who ordered it.

“Most irrigators in the OID have converted from flood irrigation to either sprinkling with hand lines or wheel lines; and a lot of them have gone to pivots, which are all more efficient irrigation practices (than flood irrigation.)”

Kasberger is not going to try to forecast the amount of precipitation, and thus reservoir water, we will receive this winter.

“It all depends on the snow pack coming this winter,” he said.

Paul Pastelok, Lead Long-Range Forecaster with is optimistic about the precipitation this coming winter weather.

“I think it’s going to be a very wet winter in the northwest. We're going to fill reservoirs up a little bit.”

According to the Bureau of Reclamation web site, as of Oct. 14, the Ochoco Reservoir was 22 percent full — 9,910 acre feet out of a possible 44,247. The Prineville Reservoir was 56 percent full — 82,663 acre feet out of a possible 148,640.

Making the best use of the available water is the OID's goal each irrigation season.

“We’re much more cognizant of how much water is in the canals now, we’re able to use head gates and check structures so that we utilize the water to the best of our ability before it gets away from us to the river,” said Kasberger

Regardless of the amount of water in the reservoirs each spring, Kasberger knows and appreciates that it still takes savvy irrigators to use the water properly.

“We’d like to thank all our patrons for their conscientious use of the water. This helped us make it through this last season.”

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