March 3, 2022
On February 21, 2022, the Deschutes Basin Board of Control submitted drought declaration requests to commissioners representing Jefferson, Crook, and Deschutes counties. The letter also requests that Governor Kate Brown issue an executive order, declaring drought in the region.
The primary benefits of a state drought declaration from the Governor are that it creates greater awareness of drought conditions, facilitates coordination between state agencies, and allows the Water Resources Department to provide existing water right holders with access to emergency water management tools.
Despite recent precipitation and snowfall, Central Oregon’s snowpack and precipitation remain below average for the water year. As of March 1, the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basins were 85% of median for precipitation and just 78% of median for snowpack (Snow Water Equivalent).
Reservoirs are also at or near record lows. Wickiup Reservoir, which stores water for the North Unit Irrigation District farmers located mainly around Culver and Madras, contained 96,373 acre-feet of water as of Tuesday, which is just 48% of capacity. The long-term climate forecast doesn’t anticipate a reversal of the historic drought, and National Weather Service predicts higher than average temperatures and below-average precipitation.
Drought, severe weather conditions, and the upcoming fire season pose significant threats to the tri-county region’s local economy, agriculture, livestock, natural resources, and recreation.
During these extenuating conditions, it may be necessary for the Oregon Water Resources Department and Deschutes Basin irrigation districts to appropriately manage and, in some instances, make changes to individual systems and flow rates at which deliveries are made to district patrons.
“The frequency and intensity of these drought events highlight the urgency to update antiquated irrigation infrastructure through water conservation projects,” said Craig Horrell, president of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control. “We are committed to piping open canals and improving on-farm efficiencies to increase water reliability and conserve water.”
The Deschutes Basin Board of Control comprises eight irrigation districts, including Arnold, Central Oregon, Lone Pine, North Unit, Ochoco, Swalley, Three Sisters, and Tumalo. Collectively they convey water to over 7,600 farms and ranches, as well as local cities, parks, and schools.