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How are Central Oregon’s drought and reservoir water levels faring?

Despite some improvement, it could take years to get out of drought status

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- At the end of the 2020 irrigation season, the water level was at an all-time low at Wickiup Reservoir -- in fact, all of Central Oregon irrigation reservoirs were well below average.

Deschutes Basin Watermaster Jeremy Giffin said recently, "Half of Central Oregon is in extreme drought. The other half is in a severe drought."

There are five main irrigation reservoirs which store water for Central Oregon: Ochoco, Prineville, Wickiup, Crescent Lake and Crane Prairie.

As of Tuesday, Ochoco was 13% full, Prineville was 32%, Wickiup was 37%, Crescent Lake was 26%, and Crane Prairie was 80%, but Crane Prairie is being kept artificially high to assist the Deschutes River habitat of the Oregon spotted frog.

"Wickiup Reservoir we drained completely at the end of the 2020 irrigation season," Giffin said.

"For Crescent Lake, we ended the season with about 21,000 acre-feet. We're up to 22,000, so obviously it's filling extremely slow, and we don't expect to fill that as much as in an average year, either," he said.

As of Tuesday, the basin's snowpack is at 96% of normal for this time of the year, and around 87% of average, in terms of precipitation.

"The remainder of the season, we're expected to be above-average precipitation, which will be great," Giffin said. "But because of the dire straits the rivers and reservoirs are in, Central Oregon -- even if we are above average this year -- we will not be above average for our irrigation supplies for the next summer."

What does this mean for Central Oregon?

"If you are living within the city of Bend and you're hooked up to Avion water or the city of Bend water, you probably won't see a difference than normal," Giffin said. "If you're an irrigator within one of the irrigation districts, they are running on low supplies, and they may be in curtailments this summer."

Giffin told NewsChannel 21 we have not had a start to the irrigation season with so little water, and there are water rights in Central Oregon that have been in place for more than 100 years.

Irrigation districts, cities and individuals have stored water that belongs to them. That water right is issued by the Oregon Water Resources Department and allows them to take a certain amount of water out of the river or the aquifer through the irrigation season.

When water levels are low in the winter, that means water is being stored. When it rises in the summer, it's solely due to irrigation demand.

Bottom line: Even with a good snowpack outlook for the rest of this winter, it's going to take several years of above-average precipitation to get us out of drought status.

Author Profile Photo

Katie Zuniga

Katie Zuniga is a weather anchor for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Katie here.



  1. Interesting, There is no doubt we have had less rain and snow. However, If we are in such a severe state of affairs, then when will the city and Deschutes County hinder growth and stop the massive influx of people to a region that supposedly doesn’t have enough water to support it?

    1. If you want to limit the population in Deschutes County, then start promoting birth control. Simple. If you want to limit domestic water use in Deschutes County, then base water use on peak use instead of mid-winter, charge more for excess use per household, and promote xeriscaping. If you want to limit water for agricultural us, support irrigation district piping and more efficient irrigation methods. And If you really care about water supply, push for a major revamping of state water law in a way that gives preference to limited domestic and agricultural use instead of recreation.

    2. Yep we could do that and stifle the economy risking loss of precious gold or we could shut down the rediculously water intensive farms that produce such food staples as peppermint oil or carrot seed! But that of course would make way too much sense for the average regressive hillbilly trumpster to understand!!! LMAO!!!! More peppermint oil less growth, jobs and enrichment!!!!

    3. Good Question! Another good question would be- If we are so low on water, when will the city of Bend stop watering parks and trees? That water is more important to human life than the beautification of the city

  2. I wonder why it is called a High DESERT.
    If precipitation increased in synch with population everything would be just fine. Without enough water every boom is destined to bust. I don’t know the breaking point on CO water capabilities, but I bet we find out soon.

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