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Wickiup Reservoir, the main source for North Unit Irrigation District, is about 63 percent full.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Wickiup Reservoir, which holds irrigation water primarily for North Unit Irrigation District, is at only about 63 percent of capacity. The percentage could change as snow melts, according to Mike Britton, general manager of NUID.
The recent snowfall in Central Oregon caused its fair share of problems for the community, such as power outages and slick roads, but it's not all bad.

Snowfall is vital to water supply for the upcoming irrigation season, and while Mike Britton, general manager for North Unit Irrigation District, said the snow by no means solved the water shortage problem, it did help in some ways.

"I don't want to give folks the false impression or comfort level that everything is OK now, because we are still really looking at what I consider drought conditions," he said, mentioning it is really too early to tell the full impact that the snow will have on this year's water forecast.

"Wickiup is only 62 or 63 percent full. It's not gaining very quickly and that is our main supply (of water)," he said.

However, there is some potential that percentage will go up as snow melts, but several things factor into getting that level up.

"The ground was so dry before the snow that it's probably going to suck up a lot of the runoff," Britton said. "Some of it will run off into Wickiup and it will help later in the season."

A late runoff is what they want to see happen, Britton said.

"Hopefully, the runoff is later in the season and not like it was last year, in April, because that is another issue. If we get a warm, hot spring, it is all going to come off early and that doesn't do us any good."

The district needs the water to run off slowly, going into the season, so the levels in the reservoir either rise or level off.

"(The reservoir) will continue to gain, however, we are supposed to have 600 CFS (cubic feet per second) in the river by April 1, so once that starts, you don't know if it will continue to fill, level out or even start dropping at that point. It just depends on what's coming into the reservoir at that point," Britton said.

In a normal year, he said, "The season starts and in May, you will actually get a little rise in the reservoir because the snow is coming off the mountains, so you are catching that spring runoff."

That didn't happen last year.

"It went down and kept going down," he said.

Britton expects the snow around Madras to help the situation. He said it, "provides a soil base of moisture where as last year the ground was so dry here that it took a lot of water to get moisture down into the soil."

"We were delivering water April 1, last year and they won't even be in their fields April 1; it will be too wet," Britton said.

Five out of the last six years have been what Britton said are consider dry years, with snow packs less than average.

"If there is any specific message I would say, the snow is great, it helped, but it didn't bail us out of the situation we are in," he said. We actually need multiple winters like this in order to kind of get back to a level playing field."

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