Season challenging, but water delivered
The 2018 irrigation season was a challenging one, but North Unit Irrigation District was still able to deliver enough water to local growers, NUID District Manager Mike Britton told a packed house Feb. 7, at the Central Oregon Farm Fair and Trade Show, in Madras.
"The past season was the most challenging I've had to deal with," Britton said, noting Wickiup Reservoir started with 198,648 acre feet of water for the irrigation season, which runs from April to October. (Full capacity is 200,000 acre feet.)
However, the amount of snowpack in 2018 was only at 63 percent, and by October, Wickiup reached its lowest level of 2,682 acre feet.
"We ended with a lot less water in Wickiup. It pretty much got drained," Britton said.
Adding to water shortages due to the low snowpack, Wickiup also developed a sinkhole in May, which drained away water.
"It was high on the bank, so we didn't lose a whole lot of water, but it's not a sight anybody wants to see," Britton said.
The sinkhole was plugged with gravel. He said they seem to get one every other year and the sinkholes are backfilled with gravel, rock, bentonite or concrete, depending on the situation.
Even so, NUID was able to fulfill its water allotments of 2.25 acre feet (Deschutes) and 1.25 acre feet (Crooked River) to farmers, delivering a total of 113,963 acre feet to Jefferson County farmers.
Looking at the 2019 season, Britton said, as of Feb. 6, the SnoTel gages showed Wickiup was 54 percent full, Prineville Reservoir was at 38 percent, Ochoco Reservoir at 12 percent, and Crane Prairie Reservoir (where the spotted frog concern is) was 71 percent full per agreements to help frog habitat.
"The good news is there are more (wet) weather systems coming in the next week or two," Britton said, adding he's remaining optimistic.
He said since 1995, NUID has done many water conservation projects, including lining the main canal, which has helped save 25,000-30,000 acre feet of water.
Currently, the district has been working on piping lateral 58-11, which should be finished this spring. Next, it will begin a $10.7 million project to pipe irrigation water along Feather Drive.
NUID has revamped its website to be more user friendly, and accessible from any electronic device. Water users can now order water online, pay water bills, track their own total water usage, and track the water schedule on each of their parcels of land.
Britton said the NUID Board would probably announce this year's water allotments in March. "I imagine the board will be very conservative," he said.
"We're hoping for a wet spring to help us get through the next season without too much pain," Britton said.