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Local agriculture experts are reporting some of the lowest storage levels on record for the Ochoco and Prineville reservoirs

RAMONA MCCALLISTER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The upcoming irrigation season will be greatly impacted by the current reservoir levels, according to agriculture experts.As irrigation season begins and farmers and ranchers look toward the growing and grazing season, local agriculture experts are predicting a dry season.

According to OSU Extension Agronomist Mylen Bohle, the growing season is going to be tough, with a relative shortage of water. The report for the 2020/2021 Crop Year Precipitation and Growing Degree Update measures precipitation and comparison of growing degree-days, and the current reports goes from Sept. 1, 2020, to April 28, 2021. As of April 28, the precipitation for Prineville was 4.6 inches, and Prineville Airport was 2.62 inches. Powell Butte was 4.46, Madras was 5.5, and Terrebonne was 5.18 inches.

"That's going to be a problem to a lot of the growers for full-season crops," commented Bohle of the current level of precipitation.

He added that for crops like hay, it will result in cutting a couple of weeks off for irrigation time into the summer. Bohle indicated that for crops like carrot seed or other full-season crops, they may have to dry up some acres or cut some other crops short and dry them up to make it through the year. He said there will probably be some shortage of hay during the season.

Bruce Scanlon, manager for Ochoco Irrigation District, recently discussed the upcoming irrigation season in a presentation posted on the OID website. He gave an update on the levels of Ochoco Reservoir and Prineville Reservoir, and the resulting effects on the irrigation season.

Scanlon noted that as of May 1, Prineville Reservoir was at 90,245-acre feet. The same time last year, the reservoir was at 112,412-acre feet.

"Last year was not a good year," said Scanlon on his presentation. "This year is an even worse year than last year when it comes to our active storage."

It is the third lowest on record in storage, with 1991 and 1992 being the lowest on record since 1988.

The storage in Ochoco Reservoir is currently just over 11,000-acre feet, and at this time last year, the reservoir had approximately 24,000 acre-feet. In Prineville history for the lowest storage levels, this is the lowest active storage that it has had in recent times. Factors that have affected this low level include snow and water equivalent, temperatures—which cause a cycle of freeze/thaw, precipitation (the last 45 days are the driest ever), and soil moisture content.

"It's the worst it's ever been since 1920," Scanlon said of Ochoco Reservoir storage levels. "In my estimation, it is by far the worst."

He went on to say, "All those factors together really limited the amount of storage that we were able to acquire in Prineville and Ochoco reservoirs."

He added that in the past two years, we received about half of what we would normally get at Ochoco in one year.

Scott Duggan, Livestock Extension Agent for Crook County Extension Office, said that it will be a rough year for livestock grazing.

"Unfortunately, it's not a happy picture," he commented.

He noted that it is already really dry out on the rangelands, compared to average conditions,

"When you walk out through it, it crackles under your feet like it is mid-to-late summer."

He added that a lot of the grass is short, and some wildflowers are not blooming yet and are weeks behind. Without the moisture, there is not the usual forage as there would be this time of year. He added that they will probably have to pull livestock off the range weeks earlier this summer than normal—maybe as much as a month earlier.

"Which means then they have to feed them hay or find irrigated pasture for them," he concluded.

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