The low water supply was more widespread than last year
Emigrant Lake, which is part of the local irrigation storage system, was reduced to 7 percent on Wednesday. The Talent Irrigation District and the Medford Irrigation District announced they will shut off water to their irrigation canals Friday. The Rogue River Valley Irrigation District estimates it can supply water through Sept. 9. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Thousands of irrigation customers will lose water after dwindling supplies forced the Talent Irrigation District and the Medford Irrigation District to shut off water to their canals Friday.
As the water recedes, users on the lower end of the canals may still have water until Saturday.
The Rogue River Valley Irrigation District, which has an additional water supply with Agate Lake, hopes to keep water flowing through Sept. 6-9.
Years of drought have left local irrigation reservoirs depleted. Agate Lake north of Medford filled this spring, but other reservoirs made to hold irrigation water entered the irrigation season just 6 percent to 50 percent full, according to data from the Bureau of Reclamation of the United States.
On Wednesday, Agate Lake, a small reservoir, was 43 percent full. But Emigrant Lake near Ashland had dwindled to 7 percent full. To the east, Hyatt Lake was 2 percent full, Howard Prairie Lake 6 percent, Fish Lake 14 percent and Fourmile Lake 12 percent, Bureau of Reclamation data show.
Rain in April and May helped local irrigation districts delay the start of their seasons and gain extra weeks at the end.
Last year, TID was shut down in mid-July, while MID and RRVID limped along until early August. The irrigation seasons used to last until autumn.
Although irrigation districts have kept water running longer this summer, they have run into problems.
The spring rains that helped them postpone the start of the irrigation season and save water had a downside.
“The rain was great, don’t get me wrong, but it made a lot of grass grow in the canals,” said RRVID manager Brian Hampson. “The grass prevents the water from flowing freely.”
RRVID had already cleaned their channels once to prepare for the start of the season.
“We started running water and had the same problems as the other districts. We worked frantically to clear the channels again. We used a rake on a bulldozer to get that grass out of the way,” Hampson said.
But overall, Hampson said, RRVID’s season has gone better than he initially thought.
“I would love to thank the trustees of the Rogue River Valley Irrigation District for their support this season. And I look forward to more rain next season,” Hampson said.
Both TID and MID said they were having trouble getting water to customers at the end of their canal systems.
“When it first started, we were struggling to get water to the bottom of the canals,” said TID Director Wanda Derry.
Users at the top of the system were drawing water, and with supplies dwindling, water was not reaching people at the end of the queue. Derry said TID switched to a rotating system of locking up users at the top in order to get users at the bottom caught.
He said the Rogue Valley’s irrigation system relies on unpredictable rainfall. Everyone must do their part to conserve water.
“We rely on Mother Nature, and whatever rain and snow we get is what we get,” he said. “We want to thank our water users who have worked with us to make the most of a not-so-good situation.”
The MID shut off water to users at the top of its system, operated excavators to clear vegetation from canals and increased releases from its reservoirs in an effort to reach all users. But limited supplies from reservoirs proved difficult.
MID manager Jack Friend said spring rains moistened the soil but did not fill local reservoirs.
“We had grass growing in the bottom of the ditch like we’ve never experienced before. We’ve had problems with leaks like we’ve never had before. We had problems getting water through the whole system,” Friend said.
He said the MID board of directors has held meetings to address public concerns and plans more meetings to look for ways to get water to all users in the district.
“We’re going to find ways to fix this problem to serve customers as equitably as possible. The system was not designed to run the way we’ve had to run it the last few years,” Friend said. “We’re looking seriously at what needs to be done moving forward. We can’t operate like this again.”
Contact Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.