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Talent Irrigation District shutting off canals

Water levels at many local reservoirs are at historically low levels. Andy Atkinson/Mail Tribune
System shutdown will last at least two weeks

The Talent Irrigation District will shut down its entire irrigation system Tuesday for at least two weeks in a bid to save scarce water during the ongoing drought.

“We’re going to do our best. We’re estimating it will be for two weeks, but if we get additional, notable precipitation, we could extend it,” said TID Board of Directors President Mike Winters. “We’re asking for people’s patience. We just don’t have the water supply to make everyone happy.”

Recent rain has eased the immediate need to irrigate crops, although many reservoirs remain at historically low levels.

By saving water now, TID hopes to stretch the irrigation season until Aug. 1 or possibly later, when temperatures are typically above 90 or 100 degrees, Winters said.

“The goal is to try and extend the season so we can get another shot of water for everyone when the temperatures are at their hottest,” he said.

Water users typically take turns every two weeks drawing water from canals. Those turns could possibly be extended to every three weeks to conserve water, Winters said.

The irrigation season could still end in late July despite water-conserving moves, he warned.

Even if local irrigation districts are able to stretch water supplies to Aug. 1, that date is well before harvest time at local orchards, vineyards and marijuana and hemp grows.

“We’re not talking about being able to produce a crop. While we would love to be able to help produce a crop, we’re in disaster mode. We’re just trying to keep things alive,” Winters said.

Recent rain and clouds will give way to sunny skies and hot weather Wednesday, with temperatures expected to reach 88 degrees. Temperatures will hit the mid-90s Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

TID is heavily reliant on water from Emigrant Lake, which is only 25% full, plus Hyatt Lake, which is 19% full. Howard Prairie Lake is worst off at 7% capacity, according to Sunday data from the Oregon Water Resources Department.

Medford Irrigation District Manager Jack Friend said MID will not shut off its water.

“We’re going to do our best to make it to August,” he said.

Most of the Medford district’s water comes from Fish Lake, which is 47% full, and Fourmile Lake, which is 21% full. The district also draws water from the north fork of Little Butte Creek.

The Rogue River Valley Irrigation District isn’t planning a water shutdown, said Brian Hampson, manager of that district.

He said the Rogue River district shares Fish Lake and Fourmile Lake water with the Medford district, and also uses Emigrant Lake water. The Rogue River district alone uses water from Agate Lake.

Agate lake is 69% full, data show.

But the lake is small and empties out every year, Hampson said.

Medford and Rogue River irrigation district managers said their systems will be impacted by the shutoff of the Talent district’s irrigation system. Return flows from Talent district irrigators won’t enter Bear Creek to supplement the water supply for users downstream.

“This will be our first year running our system when they (TID) aren’t,” said Friend, the Medford district manager.

Recent rain didn’t refill local reservoirs, but it did help irrigation districts slow down the release of water, Hampson said.

But hot, dry weather later this week will spell trouble.

“It’s going to get right back to where we were. There will be a struggle with the heat,” Hampson said.

Local irrigation districts are dealing with back-to-back years of drought. They drained reservoirs to limp through the 2020 season, then didn’t get enough snowpack or rain in the winter and spring to replenish water supplies.

Additionally, September 2020 wildfires knocked out power to many people who rely on wells for their homes and to water their livestock. TID kept its water running for an extra week to give those people access to water, Winters said.

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