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Irrigation districts hope water flows until mid-August

Jacob Tucker, a Talent Irrigation District ditch rider, works Tuesday on the East Main Canal off East Nevada Street in Ashland. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Spring rain helped ease drought conditions
Irrigation water flows Tuesday through the East Main Canal off of East Nevada Street in Ashland. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Talent Irrigation District plans to launch its irrigation season Tuesday, July 5, after spring rains allowed the district to postpone the start of water deliveries as late as possible.

Water is flowing through TID canals this week to flush debris, soak canal walls and gradually bring water levels up to avoid canal failure. TID is asking customers not to use the water for irrigation yet as it fills canals and pressurized lines.

The first water deliveries for irrigation will start after the Fourth of July holiday, TID estimates.

“Keep in mind, we can’t get everybody at the same time,” said TID Manager Wanda Derry, noting many customers are on a rotating system of one week of watering, followed by one week off while others have a turn.

She estimated TID has enough water for a 35- to 40-day irrigation season, which would put the shutoff time at about the second or third week of August.

That’s still early by historical standards. Water normally travels in irrigation canals from spring until early fall.

But this irrigation season could be better than last year’s season that ended in mid-July for TID customers because of drought.

“We’re asking for everybody’s cooperation to not take water out of turn. We’re going to do the best job that we possibly can to make the resource go as far as we can with what we have,” Derry said.

The Medford Irrigation District previously announced it would start scheduling water deliveries June 27.

Farther to the west, the Rogue River Valley Irrigation District started its irrigation season in May using stream flows rather than stored reservoir water. It has the earliest rights to use stream water of the local irrigation districts, said RRVID Manager Brian Hampson.

Two weeks ago, RRVID started supplementing stream water with stored water from its Agate Lake reservoir, he said.

“We’re actually looking pretty good right now. Our prediction for the season now is we’re going to get into August,” Hampson said.

Last summer RRVID had to shut off its water Aug. 2, but Hampson said he believes the district may be able to keep supplying water until mid-August this year.

“These past rains that we’ve had have been very beneficial to us,” he said.

In March, most local reservoirs had shrunk to virtual puddles after successive years of drought. But consistent rain in April and May helped boost water levels.

RRVID’s Agate Lake north of Medford was 95% full in the middle of this week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“Because of the rains, we haven’t had to pull on it nearly as hard as we thought we would have to in the beginning. It’s relatively small. But it’s a pretty good workhouse for us in drought years,” Hampson said.

Other reservoirs used by local irrigation districts didn’t fill up as well as Agate Lake, but most have entered the summer with more water than they had back in March.

At midweek, Emigrant Lake was 43% full, Hyatt Lake was 6% full, Howard Prairie Lake was 13% full, Fish Lake was 50% full and Fourmile Lake was 35% full, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

In March, Emigrant Lake and Hyatt Lake were 10% full, Howard Prairie Lake was 8% full, Fish Lake was 38% full, Fourmile Lake was 16% full and Agate Lake was 61% full, according to bureau data.

Northern Jackson County remains in severe drought conditions, while southern Jackson County is in extreme drought conditions, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.

Areas under severe drought conditions could see brown pastures, reduced hay yields and higher prices, ranchers selling off cattle, increased fire risk and little water for wildlife, according to the NIDIS.

Areas facing extreme drought could see those conditions plus delayed planting, scarce irrigation water and very low lakes and reservoirs, the NIDIS said.

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