NUID may be in for another tight water year
While it's too early to fully predict water allotments for patrons of North Unit Irrigation District for the 2020 growing season, things aren't looking great.
"There is still a lot of water year to go, maybe not a lot, a couple months, but a lot can happen in a couple months," said Mike Britton, general manager for the district, addressing a crowded room of local producers at the Central Oregon Farm Fair and Trade Show last week.
"If you remember last year, February, March, (we had) record snow, incredible amounts of snow all over the place which deferred really working in the fields until May. We didn't deliver water 'til May," he said. "Anything can happen, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that there is a lot more winter coming in the next couple months."
It's too early for any ballpark allotment numbers to come out yet. Though as of Feb. 10, Wickiup is at 59% of capacity.
"We would like to see them all a little fuller," Britton said, showing a graphic of water storage in the Deschutes Basin. "We haven't seen seasons where we had wet season after wet season after wet season. We'll have a good snow and be wet, and then we'll be dry for three or four years. And then we'll get another good storm, good winter and think, 'All right, cycle's changing, and then you go into another three- or four-year dry cycle."
Britton has worked for the district going on 12 years. He said for only about two of those years has he been able to report to district patrons without question that they will have enough water for everyone and that there shouldn't be any issues getting water going into the growing season.
"I would like to get back to those days, but, again, I think it is going to take more than just conservation and all the good work that we are doing. We need some winters," he said. "At the end of the day, the springs are showing signs of depletion because of lack of water and precipitation and snow.
"That results in the lack of an ability for us to pick up natural flow from the Deschutes, and the last two years, I think it was July and August, we received no natural flow from the Deschutes River," Britton said. "Everything we were taking out of the Deschutes was stored water from Wickiup. Those aren't good years by any means.
"We need some good wet strong winters and some good snowpacks to get the aquifers recharged and get back to some sense of normalcy, if there is such a thing anymore," he said.
"Wickiup Reservoir started the (2019) season on April 30 at 135,000 acre-feet. That was the lowest starting reservoir elevation in the irrigations district's history," Britton said.
At the end of the 2018 season, the reservoir was around 2,600 acre-feet, which was basically draining the reservoir, he said.
Each year, the district has an option to get some water from Prineville Reservoir, which they are required to make a claim to by a certain date. Having used that water last year, and in anticipation of the season ahead, the district has already called on that water.
However, the water doesn't come cheap. The district must get it here from there.
"Water's not cheap," Britton said. "$362,000 in power costs and 46,000, almost 47 for the water," he said.
The water coming out of Prineville cost the district $20 an acre-foot, he said.
Over all, the amount of water delivered to patrons in the district last year was far below average. "Our 10-year average (usage) has been around 110 to 112,000 acre-feet, but as we all know, last year was a different year with an allotment that hadn't been seen in decades," Britton said.
From those averages, last year's usage dropped to right around 72,000 acre-feet.
"I'm a little suspect of that number," Britton said. "I think we delivered a little more."
"Regardless, it is a number that doesn't cover a lot of ground, obviously, and again we are hopeful for some more winter and the opportunity to be able to provide more water than we did last year," he said.
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