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Large group of local farmers, ranchers contributed water allocation to water cemetery through end of September

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Sprinklers have been watering the Juniper Haven Cemetery on a regular basis since the water allocation from several local ranchers and farmers made it possible to resume watering the grounds. It is visible in the above photo that the grass is greening up, and the trees and shrubs are benefitting from the needed water.

"Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over." – Mark Twain

This popular quote has derived some relevance this past year, as limited water allocations due to drought conditions from the reservoirs affected crops, grassy areas in parks and public spaces, and places like Juniper Haven Cemetery. Not only did it have relevance, but it sparked some strong feelings where the cemetery was concerned, when in May of this year, the cemetery district announced its plans to not water the cemetery during the summer months.

Ochoco Irrigation District Manager Bruce Scanlon recently shared that "when OID set its allocation for the year of what our rate system was on the Prineville side, we could only pump so much water at any given time. Basically, everybody west of Barnes Butte is on a rate system of .7 cubic feet or CFS per hundred acres."

He commented that they shared news of this allocation with the Cemetery District, and as part of the outreach to their patrons, OID communicated other options such as to fallow ground, focus on specific areas, or work with other irrigators to pool resources.

"The Cemetery District made a decision, based upon some of their infrastructure that they have for their pumping and the way that they deliver their water in their system, they thought that it would be challenging for them to meet that rate requirement," he added.

Scanlon said that this was the reasoning he had been given as to why the Juniper Haven Cemetery District didn't take the water allocation, and that they felt it would be more beneficial in other places in the community. Since that time, many local individuals have come forward to reach out and help offset the rate for the cemetery district so they could add additional acreage to their system.

"They are now irrigating, from what I understand, and able to operate their system," Scanlon said of the allocation from the local ranchers and farmers.

He concluded that this irrigation has been a challenging year, and it is nothing like anything he has seen on record.

"The way we are working through this drought, with the low levels of water and what we have been able to accomplish in terms of delivering water this year is unprecedented," said Scanlon of the teamwork and effort involved to make it happen. "It's been a challenge, but the team and crew specifically have really stepped up, and the board of directors has really made it possible. If you look around the district right now, there is still a lot of green grass, and people are getting crops in, and finishing things. I think we have done well by our patrons to manage things."

Crook County Commissioner Jerry Brummer indicated that he recently talked to the manager for the Juniper Haven Cemetery, Bob Helton, upon finding out about the water allocation made by several of the local farmers and ranchers.

In a recent letter to the editor drafted by Jim Puckett in the Central Oregonian, 12 local signatures included Rolly Puckett, Brad Santucci, Bonnie Craig, Gerald Wilkerson, Laura Hollis, Mark McKinnon, Mike McCabe, Mark Stafford, Dean Davis, Lee Romine, Barbara Hoppes and Larry Seymour.

In the letter, the last paragraph went on to say, "Therefore, several local ranchers and farmers have discussed the lack of proper maintenance at the cemetery and have formed a plan to remedy the current situation if it will be accepted and used. We are able, willing, and ready to donate a portion of our allocation of Ochoco Irrigation District (OID) water rights to the Juniper Haven Cemetery to bring the health of the grass, shrubs, and trees for our community."

Brummer indicated that the cemetery staff have been irrigating the cemetery and will have the water until Sept. 20 or even the first of October.

"It should be enough that hopefully we can get things greened back up, and some of the trees haven't been doing well," he said.

Brummer added that he did not know the logistics about the cemetery watering system but said that it might be an antiquated system. He is hopeful that the county can have a conversation with the cemetery board about helping them find a solution to this problem and possibly some long term planning.

"I think the people in the community would be very supportive of this if they have a plan to address this issue before it happens again. I know we can't stop the droughts, but we may be able to get proactive and have a result we can all feel good about," said Brummer.

Board member for Juniper Haven Cemetery District Velda Jones indicated that the cemetery district ran the notice in the Central Oregonian in early May that they would not be able to offer irrigation.

"There wasn't enough water—maybe to run one sprinkler two hours, and that would have been it for all summer," said Jones.

She explained that their pump is located by the bottom of McKay/Main Street by Barlow's Body Shop. It pumps the water all the way uphill on the highway to the cemetery to a smaller pipe.

"That is how you get your pressure," she added. "Bless their hearts to make sure we would have water. I was so surprised when Jerry called me."

She commented that she has received a lot of verbal abuse over the issue since their announcement in May.

"I have ben cussed, I have been swore at and everything else over this water. I don't get paid for being on the cemetery board, that's a freebie."

She added that she has a lot of family at the cemetery as well, and the decision was not taken lightly. She said that she doesn't blame OID, and the board was so happy to see the water—especially for the trees. She went on to say that the timing on watering is also relevant, because there are services to consider in between, and too much water too quickly can cause other issues—like graves sinking.

She pointed out that the issue has been hard on other board members and cemetery workers. She said they have taken advantage of trimming trees, among other projects. She emphasized that the patrons who have lost their loved ones comes first, before any projects or watering. In addition to Juniper Haven Cemetery, Jones said that they also manage Powell Butte and Paulina cemeteries—which are on different watering allocations and systems.


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