Recent precipitation helps delay early demand for water, but will have minimal impact on the drought overall

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Recent precipitation in April may have little impact on the upcoming irrigation seasonFor the past couple of weeks, Crook County has been hit with its fair share of rain and snow.

The precipitation may preclude certain outdoor activities and make people wonder when spring will actually begin, but nobody would likely deny that the moisture is needed as the county grapples with an historic drought.

The uptick in precipitation is not expected to reverse the drought, but it seems that it might help.

"The recent wet and cold weather will have a couple of different factors," said Ochoco Irrigation District Manager Bruce Scanlon. "The early demand for water won't be as high and that is very helpful as we get the irrigation season started. Demands will be lower, which can help extend the season a little bit."

The additional rain and snow will also impact what the district calls the "live flows" above its water storage facilities. Scanlon said that Ochoco and Prineville reservoirs will likely have more water in the streams that feed them for a little bit longer than they would without the recent weather.

"It was dropping off pretty quickly prior to these snows," he said, "and now it has kind of bumped back up again." He hopes it will provide a bit of a reprieve before the water levels drop off again. The expectation is the level of water flowing into the reservoirs will still be much lower than normal.

Not only does the surge of precipitation help, the cold weather that has accompanied it provides a benefit.

"The demand is not there, evaporation is not as significant," Scanlon said. "When it's really cold, things don't grow very fast, so that's an element."

The recent storms dropped about 10 inches of snow at the Ochoco Meadows SNOTEL site, but midway through last week, the snow total had already dropped to 6 inches. And the Derr SNOTEL site experienced a peak snow depth of 16 inches, which had dropped to 12 inches by midweek. Ultimately, it helps but the benefit is minimal.

"It's really a drop in the bucket," Scanlon acknowledged. "It doesn't mean a continued wet spring and early summer wouldn't go a long way for supporting irrigators but what you see now will have a very small impact on the storage facilities we have and such low storage levels to being the season." After all of the rain and snow during the past couple weeks, Prineville Reservoir is only XX% capacity and Ochoco Reservoir is at XX% capacity.

"It's not going to make a real impact on how long our season goes, at least not in any significant way. It might be a week, but that would be the max."

The irrigation season for Prineville Reservoir customers is set to start on April 25. The season starts on May 6 for those who utilize water from Prineville Reservoir. The water allocations for Prineville Reservoir customers is 0.5 acre-feet, dramatically lower than a good water year when the allocation is as high as 4 acre-feet. Ochoco Reservoir customers have an even lower 0.45 acre-feet allocation.

Scanlon does not expect the season to last long for either reservoir.

"Ochoco probably won't even go until July and Prineville folks probably won't make it until August," he said.

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