Central Oregon reservoir emptied for unprecedented 3rd year in a row

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Published: Oct. 14, 2022 at 4:32 PM PDT
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BEND, Ore. (AP) — A water reservoir considered to be a key bellwether for the amount of water available for farmers in Central Oregon is nearly empty again at the end of the irrigation season.

The Bulletin reports Wickiup Reservoir was just 3% full as of Tuesday, according to the Bureau of Reclamation website.

Some water is being retained to avoid a turbidity problem that happened two years ago when the Deschutes River turned an unusual shade of green in Bend.

Wickiup Reservoir holds irrigation water in winter for North Unit Irrigation District farmers to use in the spring and summer. But drought has drained the reservoir to the bottom in the last three years and in four of the last five years.

Bridget Moran, Bend field office supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said her agency is working with Habitat Conservation Plan permit holders and federal partners to “adaptively manage” the limited water supplies.

Jeremy Giffin, the Deschutes Basin watermaster, said the amount of water available in 2023 for irrigation is likely to be an amount similar to what the reservoir held last April.

“However, I am hopeful we have an above-average snowpack this upcoming winter, which could help lift those levels a bit higher,” Giffin said.

At the end of March, four area reservoirs were at record low levels for the start of irrigation season. Wickiup was 55% full, a level that forced the North Unit Irrigation District to cut the allotment of water to its lowest allocation farmers have had in that area.

In the Upper Deschutes Basin, snowpack was just 54% of normal at the end of March, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. A late-season snowfall helped to make up some ground.

Central Oregon’s drought has been described as the worst on record, going back 127 years.

Larry O’Neill, an associate professor at the Oregon State University College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, said seasonal forecast models suggest above-average precipitation in Central Oregon for December to February and near-normal temperatures.

“The projection for more precipitation than normal this winter from the seasonal forecast models is of low to medium confidence,” O’Neill said.