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Faulty sensor at the Wickiup Reservoir sends scare through farming community

PHOTO COURTESY GARY CALHOUN - Winter precipitation is starting to fill the Wickiup Reservoir, the main water source for Jefferson County irrigators, but the level is still about 4,500 acre feet below the level at the same time last year.

Thursday, Jan. 6, several farmers and ranchers speed-dialed the North Unit Irrigation District when they read the water level in the Wickiup Reservoir had dropped below 30,000 acre feet.

Fortunately, it was a faulty sensor sending all kinds of crazy information. "The reading shot up to 207,000 acre feet, and down to 48,000 acre feet," said Josh Bailey, NUID General Manager.

Friday, Jan. 7, the a technician from Hydromet replaced the sensor. Readings should be accurate from here on out.

As of Monday, Jan. 10, Wickiup water storage sits at 68,324 acre feet, or 34% full.

"We're still behind from the same day last year, approximately 4,500 acre feet behind," says NUID Operations Manager Gary Calhoun, who looks at that water level every day of his life, sometimes many times a day. "If we get enough moisture that gap can be made up."

This December has been dryer and warmer than normal for Central Oregon.

"Prineville, Wickiup, and Ochoco reservoirs are all below what they were last year," says Kyle Gorman, regional manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department. "It's going to take multiple years of above average precipitation to get us out of the drought."

The five years of official drought added to the dry years before that, Gorman says the region needs more than normal precipitation to recharge the dry watershed.

"We need to refill the reservoirs, raise the ground water, and well as bring the stream levels up," says Gorman.

The Wickiup Reservoir stores water from mountain snowpack and serves as the primary source of irrigation water for farmers in Jefferson County.

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