Rogue Valley irrigation season to end early

·4 min read

Aug. 17—Thousands of irrigation customers will lose water after dwindling supplies force the Talent Irrigation District and Medford Irrigation District to shut off water to their canals Friday.

As the water drains away, users at the lower end of canals may still have water until Saturday.

The Rogue River Valley Irrigation District, which has an extra water supply with Agate Lake, hopes to keep its water flowing until sometime between Sept. 6-9.

Years of drought have left local irrigation reservoirs depleted. Agate Lake north of Medford filled up this spring, but other reservoirs made to hold irrigation water entered the irrigation season at only 6% to 50% full, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data.

On Wednesday, Agate Lake — a small reservoir — was 43% full. But Emigrant Lake near Ashland had dwindled away to 7% full. To the east, Hyatt Lake was 2% full, Howard Prairie Lake was 6% full, Fish Lake was 14% full and Fourmile Lake was 12% full, Bureau of Reclamation data shows.

Rain in April and May helped local irrigation districts delay the start of their seasons and eke out extra weeks at the end.

Last year, TID shut down in mid-July, while MID and RRVID limped through to the beginning of August. Irrigation seasons used to last into the fall.

Although the irrigation districts have kept the water going longer into the summer this year, they've been plagued with problems.

The spring rains that helped them postpone the start of their irrigation seasons and save water came with a downside.

"The rain was great, don't get me wrong, but it caused a lot of grass to grow in the canals," said RRVID Manager Brian Hampson. "The grass stops the water from flowing freely."

RRVID had already cleaned its canals once to prepare for the start of the season.

"We started running water and had the same issues the other districts had. We frantically worked to clean the canals again. We used a rake on an excavator to rake that grass out of the way," Hampson said.

But overall, Hampson said, RRVID's season has gone better than he originally thought it would.

"I would love to thank the patrons of Rogue River Valley Irrigation District for their support this season. And I hope for more rain next season," Hampson said.

Both TID and MID said they had problems getting water to customers at the end of their canal systems.

"When it first started out, we were struggling to get water to the bottom of the canals," said TID Manager Wanda Derry.

Users at the top of the system were drawing out water, and with diminished supplies, water wasn't reaching people at the tail end. TID moved to a rotation system of shutting users off at the top in order to get users on the bottom caught up, Derry said.

She said the Rogue Valley's irrigation system relies on unpredictable precipitation. Everyone needs to do their part to conserve water.

"We rely on Mother Nature — and whatever rain and snow we get is what we have," she said. "We want to thank our water users who have worked with us to make the best of a not very good situation."

MID shut off water to users at the top of its system, ran excavators to clean vegetation from canals and increased its reservoir releases in an effort to reach all users. But limited reservoir supplies proved challenging.

MID Manager Jack Friend said spring rains moistened the ground, but didn't fill local reservoirs.

"We had grass growing in the bottom of the ditch like we never experienced before. We had issues with leaks like never before. We had issues getting water all the way through the system," Friend said.

He said MID's board of directors has had meetings to address the concerns of the public and plans more meetings to look for ways to get water to all the district's users.

"We're going to come up with ways to fix that issue to serve patrons as equitably as possible. The system was not designed to run as we've had to run it the last few years," Friend said. "We're taking a serious look at what needs to be done moving forward. We can't operate like this again."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.