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Owyhee Reservoir set to fill for first time in six years

The reservoir holds a two-year water supply, so 2018 irrigation year looks promising too.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on March 14, 2017 1:30PM

The Owyhee Reservoir, shown here, is 80 percent full as of March 13, and water supply managers say it will fill to capacity for the first time since 2011.

Courtesy Owyhee Irrigation District

The Owyhee Reservoir, shown here, is 80 percent full as of March 13, and water supply managers say it will fill to capacity for the first time since 2011.

Water is released for flood control purposes from the Owyhee Reservoir dam March 13. The reservoir is expected to fill for the first time since 2017.

Courtesy Owyhee Irrigation District

Water is released for flood control purposes from the Owyhee Reservoir dam March 13. The reservoir is expected to fill for the first time since 2017.

This picture of snowpack in the Owyhee River basin was taken from an airplane March 13. The basin received snowpack levels well above normal this year and as a result, the Owyhee Reservoir is expected to fill for the first time since 2017.

Courtesy Owyhee Irrigation District

This picture of snowpack in the Owyhee River basin was taken from an airplane March 13. The basin received snowpack levels well above normal this year and as a result, the Owyhee Reservoir is expected to fill for the first time since 2017.


ONTARIO, Ore. — Snowpack levels in the Owyhee River basin were far above normal this winter and the Owyhee Reservoir will fill for the first time since 2011.

About 1,800 farms and 118,000 irrigated acres in Eastern Oregon and part of southwestern Idaho depend on water from the reservoir. In 2016, those irrigators received their full 4-acre-foot allotment of water for the first time in four years.

This year’s water supply outlook is even better and, because the reservoir was built to hold a two-year’s supply of irrigation water, next year looks promising as well.

“It’s as good as it’s looked in a long time,” said Owyhee Irrigation District Manager Jay Chamberlin.

He flew over the basin in an airplane March 13 to gain a better feel for how much water will reach the reservoir this year.

A lot of the low-elevation snow has already melted and reached the reservoir but there is still quite a bit of snow in the medium to upper elevations, Chamberlin said.

“Everything looks really positive,” said Oregon farmer Bruce Corn, a member of the OID’s board of directors.

The reservoir, which has the capacity to hold 715,000 acre-feet of water for irrigation, was 79 percent full with 563,000 acre-feet as of March 13, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

A little bit of water is being released from the dam right now for flood control efforts and the OID board will soon have to decide whether to release even more, Chamberlin said.

Total runoff from the basin this year is projected to be 146 percent of average, said Brian Sauer, water operations manager for the bureau’s middle Snake River field office.

“We anticipate a full supply of water availability on the Owyhee Project this year,” he said.

The bureau forecasts a total of 1.08 million acre-feet of water will flow into the reservoir from January through June. About 300,000 acre-feet has already reached the reservoir so that means another 783,000 acre-feet is still to come.

By comparison, the reservoir received 531,000 acre-feet of runoff all of last year, 190,000 acre-feet in 2015 and 175,000 acre-feet in 2014.

The allotment for Owyhee Project irrigators was slashed significantly from 2013-2015 because of drought conditions.

The project has significantly limited allotments a couple of times in the past but never that many years in a row, Corn said.

The current water supply situation looks great compared with those drought years but the project is really just getting back to typical levels, he said.

“This is really more of a normal scenario,” he said.





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