WATER SUPPLY UPDATE
Unfortunately, the water supply situation is not looking very good at this time. There is actually less water in the three district reservoirs of Howard Prairie, Hyatt Lake and Emigrant Lake, than there was this time last year. It is too early to make a determination on whether there will be enough water available to run the system this year. We have the months of March and April to accumulate more water if the weather patterns cooperate, but for now, we are waiting to see what happens. Please keep this historic low water supply information in mind when planning your irrigation needs this year.
The office is receiving several phone calls from people asking for refunds for last year because they did not receive very much water. We are also getting calls stating that they don’t want to pay their irrigation bill this year if they might not receive any water. The answer to both of these questions is that the patrons are not paying for the irrigation water. If they were, their water use would be metered and they would be billed for the amount of water used. What the patrons are paying for is the maintenance of the irrigation system to deliver the irrigation water. There are over 230 miles of canal and lateral systems that have to be maintained so that they are in good condition to deliver whatever water Mother Nature decides to give us in our reservoirs.
The enlargement of the reservoir system in the late 1950s intended to store enough water in the reservoirs to withstand multi-year drought scenarios. Unfortunately, the past few years’ extreme droughts have taken their toll. Last year’s storage supply was the worst in our project’s history; and this year’s supply, at current levels, is about 3,000-acre feet lower than last year’s storage at this time. Even though the weather pattern was favorable in December with rain and snowpack, these conditions did not continue into January and February. The reservoir system has only gained approximately 5,000-acre feet of water since the system shut down on July 19, 2021. It currently stands at approximately 8% of total capacity.
As mentioned, the district’s system was enlarged in the late 1950s. This was accomplished with the assistance of the United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). The enlargement was funded through the BOR by an interest free loan which will be paid off in 2032. In turn the district quitclaimed the system to the BOR; however, the district is still responsible for the operation and maintenance of the facilities.
We have received inquiries from patrons concerned that the district has been and continues to release water from Emigrant Lake to augment flows in Bear Creek. The district is currently releasing 2 cubic feet per second (cfs) as required under the terms of the Biological Opinion released on April 2, 2012. The Biological Opinion was developed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for the Future Operation and Maintenance of the Rogue River Basin Project by the United States Department of the Interior, BOR. There were several conditions that are required by the Biological Opinion, including the required water releases to protect the Southern Oregon and Northern California Coast Coho salmon. Negotiations between NMFS and the BOR, with district input, went on for several years. The 2 cfs required flow release that was finally agreed to is much less than NMFS originally wanted.
We have also received many inquiries from patrons concerning the release of water from Howard Prairie Reservoir during the Safety of Dams (SOD) work completed a couple of years ago. In fact, there was no water released from Howard Prairie during the SOD work. The BOR built a temporary dam behind the regular dam at Howard Prairie so that no water needed to be released during construction.