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Even at double the price, early water might save part of the potato crop for Macy Farms

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER
 - This ditch went dry when the North Unit Irrigation District turned off water to its patrons the weekend of Aug. 21. This is Opal Springs water from the Deschutes Valley Water District. Macy Farms installed meters and is paying to irrigate its potatoes with drinking water.

Macy Farms has about a million dollars invested in its potato crop. The owner planted the potatoes before the irrigation district cut their already meager water allotment by 10%, then cut it back another 10%, then shut water off completely two months earlier than usual.

The North Unit Irrigation District plans to deliver water to farmers again for two weeks in October.

Mike Macy says their potato harvest can't wait that long.

"We usually start in a typical year about September 15," says Macy.

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER
 - Richard Macy checks the gauge at the pump. So, the Macys turned to the Deschutes Valley Water District, which supplies water from Opal Springs to much of Jefferson County. It's the water most of us use to drink, cook, bathe, water our lawns and wash our cars.

This year, for the first time ever, DVWD shared its domestic water supply with irrigators in Jefferson County.

"Once the governor issued a drought declaration for this area, the district's board of directors made a decision to offer help to NUID," says DVWD Manager Joel Gehrett, "in support of the community and local farmers." 

Since July, DVWD has been selling water to NUID, albeit a very small amount compared to the total amount of water the NUID delivers daily.

The Opal Springs water poured directly into the irrigation canal. Once North Unit shut off its delivery the weekend of Aug. 21, the Opal Springs supplement ended too.

Macy Farms, situated near that outlet, requested delivery directly to its property. The Macys will provide the meters and the hardware necessary for the project.

Billing will go through NUID. Macy Farms will pay for every drop.

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER
 - Richard Macy says seed potatoes especially need to be harvested with care and at the right time. Right now, the potatoes look good, but the thin skins break at the slightest touch. Getting water at the right time will help secure a successful harvest.At $10,000 a month delivery fee and $160 per acre foot, this water will cost the Macys twice what they ordinarily pay. Macy says it's worth it.

"We have to have a pre-harvest irrigation to loosen the soil up to dig the potatoes," says Macy. "If we waited until October 5th to dig for five weeks, we can get some serious cold weather, freeze, rain, snow, anything before November."

These are seed potatoes, which Macy Farms will store for planting in spring. "You have to dig them in ideal conditions to store them," says Macy.

Not many farms are close enough to take advantage of the Opal Spring water. Even for the Macys, they'll be able to reach only 175 acres. The other 125 acres of potatoes will have to wait for the NUID water in October.

And this arrangement is temporary. Gehrett says the DVWD infrastructure is set up for domestic water, not irrigating thousands of acres of farmland.

The DVWD does not want to set a precedent for diverting drinking water for irrigation.

"The district's capacity is needed to support the growth this community is experiencing with residential and commercial development," says Gehrett.

This year was an unusually bad year. Next year promises to be as bad, if not worse.

The DVWD board will take each year as it comes.


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