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Two examples of coping with the drought

Two reports this week offer a glimpse of where the water situation stands heading into the summer. The news is not great, but it’s not the end of the world either.

One story involves Oak Knoll Golf Course, owned and operated by the city of Ashland. Golf courses require water in large amounts to maintain greens and fairways. This year that will be even more of a challenge than usual, as Oak Knoll has relied on Talent Irrigation District water in the past, and irrigation managers are predicting a one-month season.

Hyatt, Howard Prairie and Emigrant reservoirs, TID’s primary water sources, are 20%, 15% and 19% full respectively at this point, not a good sign in May.

Watering the golf course with city water isn’t really an option, either. There will be many in Ashland who argue the city has no business operating a golf course when other needs are more pressing. But city parks officials point out the course is city park land, and if it closed it would remain city park land — which still requires water, to prevent wildfire if nothing else.

Whether the city should continue to operate a golf course is a policy decision for the Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council, with plenty of public input. But the water dilemma is just one example of hard choices that will face irrigators across the valley this year.

When it comes to drinking water, the communities served by the Medford Water Commission are fortunate to have the benefit of abundant flows from Big Butte Springs at the base of Mount McLoughlin, augmented by treated water from the Rogue River, especially in the summer months. But that shouldn’t be an excuse to waste water. Conservation of household water should be a priority for everyone.

While farmers nervously prepare for a very dry summer, Lost Creek Lake, which captures Rogue River water primarily for flood control and fish habitat, has reached 72% of capacity — very good news for water and fish managers. Recent spring rains have been enough to offer the hope of summer releases to cool the river downstream, keeping fish alive during their spawning migrations upstream.

Managing reservoir levels at Lost Creek and Applegate lakes is a balancing act between storing enough water for fish health and leaving enough room to catch storm water runoff and prevent flooding. Water managers say improved weather forecasting may allow them to store more water, but those decisions are not without risk if climate models are accurate in predicting increased flooding.

We don’t envy irrigators and water managers the task of coping with the extended drought the region is experiencing. The region is at the mercy of dwindling moisture, and it’s increasingly clear that the future will mean learning to live with less.