Capital Press/Eric Mortenson

Published on May 10, 2017


The water supply outlook is welcome news for Oregon irrigators, who have faced shortages the past few years.


The state’s heavy snowpack and water supply outlook held steady in April, good news especially for five Deschutes River irrigation districts that cut back water use last year after getting caught up in a lawsuit over the Oregon spotted frog.​​ 


The latest report from the Portland office of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service showed that the statewide snowpack in all river basins was 155 percent of average as of May 1.​​ 


For comparison, the snowpack was 11 percent of normal at this time of year in 2015, 62 percent in 2014 and 64 percent in 2016. Heavy snowfall and cold wet weather throughout this past winter and spring broke the drought that gripped the Pacific Northwest the past three years.​​ 


Julie Koeberle, an NRCS hydrologist and member of the agency’s snow survey team, said Oregon’s summer water supply hasn’t looked this good since 2011.​​ 


“Everybody’s happy this year,” she said.​​ 


Koeberle said it’s unlikely that warm weather will rapidly melt the snowpack and change the water outlook for this summer.


​​ “Not at this point,” she said. “The snow remaining is still above normal. With this much snow left, even if we had a rapid snow melt that occurred, we still have a buffer.”​​ 


The water outlook is welcome news for the five irrigation districts that were accused in lawsuits of violating the Endangered Species Act by harming the Oregon spotted frog. The complaints were filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Waterwatch of Oregon against the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Deschutes River system reservoirs, and the Arnold, Central Oregon, Lone Pine, North Unit and Tumalo irrigation districts.​​ 


As a result of a 2016 settlement, the districts agreed to maintain minimum river flows at a level that provided better habitat for the frogs. To do that in a period of drought and diminished water levels, the districts had to forgo some of the irrigation water they normally would have drawn from the system.​​ 


Things look much better this spring.​​ 


“At this point we expect users should get full allotments of water,” said ShanRae Hawkins, spokeswoman for the districts. “Certainly having more water in the basin is helpful to everyone. It’s good for fish, good for wildlife and benefits irrigation users.”​​ 


She said the snow-water equivalent — the amount of water in the snow — recently measured 117 percent of normal in the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basins. The Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs, which store irrigation water, are filling with runoff from melting snow. They stood at 87 percent and 83 percent full, respectively, as of May 8.​​ 


“It’s just such a relief,” Hawkins said.​​ 


Producers in the area grow carrot seed, flower seeds, peppermint, hay, alfalfa and more.


Shon Rae