Snowpack low but hope remains for normal irrigation season
Much like last year around this time, the snowpack in the Crook County area is not all that high.
Little snow has fallen in the mountains during the late fall and early winter, and as a result, the snow depth totals are below average for the time period.
"It is below the median average," said Ochoco Irrigation District Manager Bruce Scanlon. The district monitors snowpack throughout the winter as it affects how much melt-off water will be available in the spring and summer for its farmer customers. He points out that two of the snow telemetry, or SNOTEL, sites it watches, one of which is near Walton Lake and another east of Big Summit Prairie, are about 50 to 60% of the median average for this time of year.
"So we are definitely behind the curve when it comes to where we would like to see things," Scanlon said.
While that is true now, things can change in a hurry. The snowpack was in a similar situation last year in early January, and the irrigation district was looking at possibly lower allocations for its customers — then in late February, the snowstorms hit. Suddenly, snowpack was plentiful in the mountains, and about 2 feet of snow had buried the Prineville community.
Ultimately, the district did not have to change its allocations, and both the Ochoco and Prineville reservoirs reached levels that lasted through the growing season and left plenty of carryover.
"As last year proved to us, we frequently get a little bit of a boost in January and February," Scanlon said, "so we are still hopeful."
While the snow depth this year is similar to last year, the district is not in a similar situation overall. Scanlon points out as an example that the soil water content is much better this year.
"That is going to be helpful as we start to see the melt-off coming," he said.
The storage in the reservoirs is well above what it was last January, he said. Ochoco Reservoir, for example, is at about 20,000 acre-feet, compared to just 6,000 acre-feet at this time last year.
"The carryover has been great," Scanlon said.
Since so much can change, sometimes in just a matter of days when snowstorms strike, Scanlon said he and the irrigation district's board are reluctant to make decisions for the upcoming season until closer to spring.
"We continue to monitor our SNOTEL sites and prepare for the water season as normal," he said. "Closer to March is when the OID board will set the allocation for the upcoming irrigation season."
What that season looks like is hard to determine, since it depends on something as unpredictable as weather. But Scanlon said that district leaders are hopeful.
"In general, because we do have a great carryover from the previous year, we anticipate that our delivery would be on par with a normal year," he said.
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