Pamplin Media Group – OCHOCO IRRIGATION DISTRICT: Responsible management of water supply for farms and fish


Throughout its history, the OID has championed water conservation, maximizing resource benefits for all stakeholders

There are still some who remember the situation in the Prineville Valley before the construction of the Bowman Dam was completed in 1961. Government reports from 1903 and earlier noted how the Crooked River was small, hot and stagnant in this region during the summer. Locals say that before 1960, the Crooked River in the Prineville Valley didn’t support any trout during the summer because the flow was so low and hot.

Prineville Reservoir changed all that and made possible one of the best trout fisheries in central Oregon and one of the five most visited reservoirs in the state. The normal summer flow of the Crooked River from Prineville Reservoir to the city is cool, clear, plentiful and is only so because irrigated agriculture built the reservoir to store the large cold winter/spring flows for the release during the summer. This is not the case this year.

As everyone knows, the last three years of drought have been extremely difficult for farmers in the region. DIO clients only received 25% of their water entitlement this year. Districts that rely primarily or exclusively on direct flow are running out of resources, while districts that also use stored water have had to rely on these supplies earlier and more extensively than normal. The OID depends primarily on water stored in the Prineville and Ochoco reservoirs. Ultimately, this prolonged drought means less water for farmers, fish and wildlife.

The availability and use of Prineville Reservoir storage varies each year based on inflows. According to the Oregon Department of Water Resources, in 2022 the reservoir had the lowest peak filling on record, dating back to when the dam was created. The 2022 infill was just under 48,000 acre-feet, and the second lowest on record is 1992, at nearly 80,000 acre-feet. 2021 was the fourth lowest on record.

Throughout its history, the district has been a strong advocate for water conservation and maximizing the benefits of this valuable resource for all stakeholders. In 2014, the OID, in coordination with local/state/federal agencies and conservation groups, successfully passed what is commonly known as the Crooked River Act. This legislation reassigned the content of the facility. He made provisions for irrigation, which accounts for about 58% of the total storage capacity. The remainder up to 62,520 acre-feet (42%) is now allocated to fish and wildlife benefits. (For perspective, 1 acre-foot of water equals approximately 325,000 gallons) The law also allowed the OID to participate in water conservation projects that were not previously permitted. Finally, the act allocated stored water to complete the McKay Switch project, which will help restore the natural flow in the middle reach of McKay Creek to benefit rainbow trout and other species.

Despite extreme and persistent drought conditions this summer, the DIO remains firmly committed to implementing the conservation measures outlined in the Deschutes Basin (HBP) Habitat Conservation Plan. Joining the plan means that the OID, the City of Prineville and other districts are allowed to continue to access the limited water supplies available in times of drought, and customers in the district can rely on these supplies with confidence. trust based on the US Fish and Wildlife Service. HCP approval.

Unlike some other western basins, the HCP offers some water supply protections. District customers can access much of their live stream and stored water supplies that are available even with drought, while simultaneously supporting fish and wildlife habitat and remaining in compliance with the law. on endangered species. The magnitude of this year’s drought is surprising, but the possibility of drought is something we have recognized and carefully considered in the design of the HCP.

We are coordinating real-time water management with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and this coordination has made it possible to use the limited amount of water we have during this difficult time.

Looking ahead, OID is focused on upgrading the aging water distribution system to increase water reliability and restore habitat for Ochoco and McKay Creek. An updated irrigation infrastructure will allow the district to be more resilient to environmental changes and maximize the efficiency of water delivery.

We are committed to problem solving and exploring solutions with our regional partners regarding the management of water in our basin for irrigation, fish and wildlife habitat.

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