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2022 marks the worst irrigation season on record for farmers in Jefferson County

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - NUID Canal

The North Unit Irrigation District will turn off water to farmers tentatively on Oct. 14. In one respect that's a triumph compared to last year. The district was able to maintain the water supply through the end of September as promised. Additionally, they announced they would be providing farmers with an additional 1/10 allotment beginning Oct. 1. "We met our obligations until the end of September," said NUID board member Vern Bare. "I'm glad we were able to do that." Last year the district shut down water on Aug. 23, more than a month before usual. Yet this year marks the worst ever for the district since irrigation began in 1946. Farmers got only a quarter of the water they usually get during an irrigation season. "It's been a disappointing year to be a farmer in North Unit," said Bare. The board decided to tentatively schedule shutoff for Oct. 14, only moving earlier if demand from farmers drops considerably. The additional 1/10 allotment will be available to farmers from Oct. 1 to the shut-off date.

Still in play for the board involves what to do with water after the shut-off. In past years, including last year, the Central Oregon Irrigation District has opted to shut off its water in October to work on piping projects. That made water available to other districts, including NUID. COID has tentatively set its shut off for its canals for mid-October. Whether there will be late fall water available for NUID is up in the air. "What we do beyond that will be a serious discussion," said Bare. "Playing it day by day." Last year the district started with an allotment of one acre foot of water, but as the season progressed had to reduce the allotment twice, ultimately to .8 acre foot, and shut the water off earlier in the season than anticipated, leaving farmers stranded with crops they planted but couldn't water.

This year farmers got a full season with slightly more water than promised, but the scarcity of water made this a tough year for farmers. "Imagine getting your salary cut by three-quarters," said famer Jeff Cloud, "but you still have all the same bills to pay."

And those bills are more costly, says Bare, who's paying $1,200 a ton for fertilizer, $8.50 a pound for alfalfa seed, and began the season paying $6.50 a gallon for diesel.

"I don't see us getting out of this situation even in a 12-month period. We'd need a 100-year storm this winter to fill Wickiup," Bare said of the reservoir that stores water for Jefferson County irrigation. Bare talks of selling the farm. "It's hard to put a piece of farm ground on the market when there's no water," he said. He talks of moving, but then, "I've been here 22 years and it's pretty hard to jerk your roots out of the ground."


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