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Central Oregon

As C.O. drought emergency declared, Jefferson County farmers may be hit hardest

'Junior' water rights can have major impact; 'seniors' trying to help

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday issued an executive order declaring drought emergencies for seven Oregon counties, including the three in Central Oregon, but Jefferson County farmers may feel the brunt of the conditions on the High Desert.

Due to unusually low water supplies, mixed with the hot and dry conditions, Crook, Deschutes, Douglas, Gilliam, Jefferson, Josephine and Wasco counties were placed in drought emergency as state agencies were directed to provide needed assistance and relief.

Brown said, “Forecasted water supply conditions are not expected to improve, and drought is likely to have significant economic impacts on the farm, forest, recreation, drinking water, and natural resources sectors, as well as impacts on fish and wildlife and other natural resources which are dependent on adequate precipitation and streamflow in these areas.”

One of the places people may have already seen the impacts is Prineville Reservoir, where two boat docks remain unopened due to the low water levels.

Mike Britton, general manager of the North Unit Irrigation District in Madras, told KTVZ that Wickiup Reservoir is at the lowest level ever recorded for this time of year. It's just 38% full, as the region's "teacup" diagram shows.

Shon Rae, deputy managing director of the Central Oregon Irrigation District, said Bend-area residents may not see a direct impact on water use, but farmers depending on irrigation districts with "junior" rights will feel the greatest effects.

“So there’s a variety of other folks that are using COID irrigation water, but the farmers are definitely going to be the ones that are most affected," Rae said. "They’re the ones that, it’s their livelihood -- if they don’t have water and their crops aren’t growing, then it’s like you not having money come in the bank.”

Rae also noted that to help those irrigation districts the most, the best thing COID can do is conserve -- "just making sure we are running really tight with our water, and doing the best we can to leave as much water in the river for junior (rights water) users.”

Irrigation districts are prioritized for water rights by by their seniority. As COID is one of the oldest districts, defining it as a senior user, the clients they serve are the priority in the area. The junior users such as the North Unit Irrigation District, are next in line.

With these conditions, Katrina Van Dis, executive director of the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance, said supporting local growers is more important than ever this year.

"Just supporting the farmers while we can, while they have crops that they are watering and they are harvesting is super-important," she said.

Van Dis added that one farm in Madras may be leaving 40% of its land fallow this year.

The conditions of the drought will be monitored by several different state organizations, including the Oregon Water Resources Department, Oregon Office of Emergency Management and the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which is seeking federal funds to assist in agricultural recovery in the affected counties.

Crook County / Deschutes County / Jefferson County / News / Top Stories
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Jordan Williams

Jordan Williams is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jordan here.



    1. most water on crops in Jefferson county is applied by what the crop demands. You cannot. control what the wind does during watering. Many have gone to more expensive delivery systems to conserve water. Think your observations are off the mark

    2. lololol one sprinkler set from one farmer for 8 hours equates to “all the farmer water all the streets” ??? Way to pull the victim card for an offense YOU can get fixed. If you call whoever that “street” belongs to (ODOT, county, or city) someone will most likely come discuss with that farmer about moving his sprinkler set to keep it off the roadway.

  1. Is this the driest year on record? Why is Wikiup so low if this not the driest year on record? Could this have anything to do with the spotted frog settlement? Hard-hitting journalism getting to the bottom of it!

    1. Or maybe because they did not try to save enough of the spring runoff as in the case of Prineville Resevoir with the Crooked River still running very high. Looks like the plan is to drain the lake this year????? even though they promised it wouldn’t happen when they pushed the water bill through.

      1. Can’t speak to the Prineville reservoir situation, but the irrigation folks are required to not hold back as much water as in years past, as part of the spotted frog ruling. Wikiup will likely go dry. It used to be home to lots of fish and a great recreation spot. Now it’s a muddy spot.

  2. Hard to feel sorry, as it seems like farmers are riding the wave of government bailout money designed to get them to vote Trumpski. Damn welfare queens.

  3. Maybe if they got rid of the stupid rule that you are required to irrigate something like 90% of your property to maintain water rights, then there would be more water for farmers.

  4. Severe drought in much of Oregon, yet Pappy’s Pizza closed in Bend to become a car wash,
    and another car wash is under construction in Redmond. Hmmm.
    Maybe these will be waterless car washes.

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