Owyhee Irrigation District sets a lot for spring irrigation

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The new allocation was set at 2.1 acre feet. Last year the allotment was 3 acre feet. One foot of an acre of water is enough water to flood an acre 1 foot deep. The new allocation is in response to lower reservoir levels and lack of snowfall.

The Owyhee Irrigation District recently released its new batch for water users. (The Company/FILE)

NYSSA – Mother Nature may have come to the rescue of area farmers who rely on irrigation water in no time.

Somehow.

With good runoff and improved stream flows, reservoirs in the area are slowly recharging, but the long-term irrigation picture still includes an early shutdown for agencies such as the district Owyhee Irrigation System.

The Owyhee Irrigation District recently established a new irrigation water user allowance at 2.1 acre feet. Last year, the Owyhee Irrigation District reduced its water allocation from 4 acres to 3 acres. One foot of an acre of water is enough water to flood an acre 1 foot deep.

Although lower than 2021, the new allocation for Owyhee customers is still much better than previous estimates which called for a possible allocation of less than 2 acres.

The amount of snow in parts of the Owyhee Basin has proven beneficial and it has melted and triggered runoff into creeks at a higher rate than expected, said district manager Clancy Flynn.

“We’ve doubled and maybe tripled our runoff from last year, so we’ve had much better runoff this year than last year,” Flynn said.

Flynn said runoff this year, compared to 2021, is significantly better but still well below normal. In a normal year, between 350,000 and 400,000 feet of water flow into the Owyhee Reservoir. As of March 31 last year, 123,000 feet of water has poured into the Owyhee Reservoir.

“This year we had 218,000 acres of feet,” Flynn said.

That number, however, won’t hold up and Flynn warned that it’s unlikely to be an exceptional hydrological year.

“It’s good, but I don’t know if it changes the situation. It could have been better,” he said.

A quick look at the reservoir levels in the area shows some improvement in terms of water storage.

In early March, for example, the Warm Springs reservoir was 11% full. Last week, water storage capacity at Warm Springs improved to 15%.

Last week, Beulah Reservoir was 37% full – up from 29% in early March – while Bully Creek Reservoir was 53%, down from 45% a month ago.

The Owyhee Reservoir fell from 25% a month ago to 41% last week. Water managers like to see the Owyhee between 35% and 40% full before the spring runoff period. About 35,000 acres of agricultural land depends on the Owyhee Reservoir.

The snow water equivalent – ​​or the amount of liquid water contained in the snowpack as it melts – for the Owyhee Basin last week was 52%. That’s a good sign in the short term, but in the long term — because there’s less snow now at higher elevations — stream flows will be much lower in the summer, Flynn said.

The importance of irrigation water for the region is enormous.

More than 170,000 acres in the county are irrigated, supplying the region’s $80 million onion industry and other cash crops such as alfalfa.

The potential scarcity of irrigation water has already impacted some farmers in the region, Flynn said, with some growers turning to crops such as wheat that are less dependent on irrigation.

The water outlook for the district is better, but that won’t change the long-term picture for its customers, Flynn said.

“We’ll always end up closing early, but I don’t know when,” Flynn said.

Topical advice? Contact journalist Pat Caldwell at [email protected] .

Previous cover:

As drought in the west persists, low reservoir levels locally may mean difficult planting and growing season ahead

Water outlook in Malheur County remains bleak despite recent storm surge

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