Southern Oregon is in a severe drought for irrigation water. Mother Nature is always firmly in control of this part of the water supply. The irrigation district does not make the water, we just transport the water.
Multiple below average snowpack water years, coupled with sustained long hot summers, has created a steady drawdown on our carryover supply that we had built up in the reservoirs over the years.
Until last year, 1992 had been the lowest storage water year since the project went into operation in 1961. In 2020, we ran very close to 1992 storage amounts but 1993 allowed some relief to the project by producing approximately 175% of normal snowpack and heavy runoff, adding some 75,000 acre feet of water to the system. Unfortunately, the same thing did not happen between the 2020 and 2021 years.
The Talent Project reservoirs have an average annual drawdown of around 50,000 acre feet to get us into September. If this year does not give us some relief, we could be looking at only having around 30,000-35,000 acre feet.
This year, like last year, the first snow fell on a dry soil profile which caused the snowmelt to soak into the ground rather than running off into the reservoirs and creeks. Depending on how the snow comes off this spring, we suspect that this year will behave the same way.
Every year at the end of each irrigation season water managers do not know what type of winter we will have. The last few storage seasons we have not had that banner year to allow the system to recover to fully satisfy the upcoming irrigation season.
While it makes for very low pools in the reservoirs and recreation suffers, it is the districts’ responsibility to give growers the best chance possible of having a successful growing season. The irrigation project reservoirs were built for irrigation and that is the first and highest priority on the system, with all other uses being a distant second.
Every storm gives us hope and once we have a better idea of the total amount of stored water that may be available to the district, the district board of directors will determine what types of delivery changes may need to be made to give all district patrons their fair share of available irrigation water.
We have not given up hope that we could yet experience some large storms and/or a late wet spring to help extend the season, but we want everyone to be aware that this could be a very short delivery season.
The district encourages all AG producers to plan their crop and pasture management accordingly. This could mean reducing fertilizer applications or similar adjustments because of reduced available water.