What looked to be a normal water year is rapidly transforming into drought conditions.
Les Perkins, general manager of Farmers Irrigation District, said the district is sending out letters this week that will urge water conservation for the rest of the summer. Craig DeHart, general manager of Middle Fork Irrigation District, and John Buckley, general manager of East Fork Irrigation District, report sending out similar pleas last week.
The Farmers Irrigation District letter reads, in part, “The 2018 irrigation season is shaping up to be a challenging one. We began the season with a nearly normal snow pack and full reservoirs. An abnormally warm and dry May decimated the mid-elevation snow pack. A relatively cool June helped to slow demand for water.
“We have been carefully managing our reservoir water with an eye to late summer,” the notice continues. “At this point, we are slightly down from our normal levels over the past 10 years. Flows in the Hood River, which supplies water to the lower district, have consistently been at half or less than normal for the past month. Flows from tributaries used to supply the diversions in the upper and middle districts are low; irrigation water use is becoming greater than available supply. The long-term forecast is for continued abnormally hot and dry weather. We are going to need to be judicious in the use of every drop of water in order to ensure water availability through the end of the season.”
Perkins added in an email Monday that residential use “will make or break the season.
“Most people over-water without realizing it,” he said. “Deep watering doesn’t do anything for grass or most shallow-rooted landscaping plants. Also, grass will go dormant and come back with fall rains.”
Green lawns come at a price, he said: To the farming community and fish.
In his letter to patrons, Perkins said that Farmers Irrigation is asking all water users to voluntarily cut back use and that a 15 percent reduction now may prevent or postpone the need for more drastic measures later in the season.
Those future actions could entail all users reducing consumption to a lower gallon per minute per acre rate, curtailing junior water right properties and rotation of all senior water rights properties.
“The most concerning issue is that stream flows are where they would typically be three or four weeks from now,” said Perkins. “The Hood River has been dipping below 300 cubic feet per second (CFS) every day for the past several days, and tributary flows are very low.
“Combine this with consistently high temperatures and demand can quickly outstrip supply.”
Those seeking more information on how to calculate the amount of water allowed to them this season should call the Farmers Irrigation office at 541-387-5261.
DeHart said in an email Monday morning that Middle Fork users were sent a letter last Wednesday. Patrons are being asked to cut back by not watering two days a week, turning off lawn sprinklers, fixing leaks and being more conservation-minded in general.
“The response in our district was evident by Friday afternoon and tremendous,” he said. “They are doing it.
“Middle Fork Irrigation District appreciates its patrons’ rapid response,” he said, “and we encourage them to keep it up.”
Buckley reported that East Fork sent out a postcard asking patrons to voluntarily cut back water use by up to 25 percent. Those who use more than 50 gallons of water per minute have also been asked to give East Fork staff 24-hour notice when turning the water on or off.
“We very much appreciate knowing a change in water usage,” he said.
Most patrons are good about reducing water usage, he noted, but with warm and dry temperatures slated for the rest of the summer, there are concerns, especially since East Fork does not have a reservoir or holding source for water.
“Drought season” is usually July through mid-September, he said, and the district works day by day to provide enough flow for patrons balanced with fish survival.
“My hope is for irrigators to use water wisely and use it when totally necessary,” he said. “This will always be a problem when you have a low snowpack and extreme, warm temperatures.”
Buckley suggests homeowners covert to a micro sprinkler system and water at night or early morning to keep evaporation to a minimum. He also suggests watering plants but not the lawn — as Perkins pointed out, lawns will go dormant during a drought.
“Water is a very precious resource and we must all look at it that way,” said Buckley.