Owyhee River

Owyhee River

Larry Moore/BLM

Farmers in eastern Oregon are optimistic about water this year. Many irrigation districts began releasing water for farmers this week.

This past winter’s strong snowpack means that as the snow melts this spring, reservoirs are filling. Vale Irrigation District manager Dan Fulwyler expects this year to be much better than last year.

“Two of the three of our reservoirs are going to be full,” Fulwyler said. “So it looks like we’re going to be set up to possibly have a good water season.”

Oregon has experienced a drought for the past several years. That challenged farmers and stressed fish and wildlife. Some reservoirs in eastern Oregon were drawn down so far last year, that even with this year’s improved snowpack, they may not completely recharge. Fulwyler expects Warm Springs Reservoir to fill about halfway this year.

“But we’re not greedy, we’re very blessed to have what we have. We’ll take it and do the best we can,” he said.

Farmers in Oregon grow a number of thirsty crops like alfalfa, potatoes, onions, carrots and corn. In drought years, farmers can’t always plant the kinds of crops, or as many acres, as they would like to, due to limited water supply. 

“There’s a lot of crops that we grow here that sustain a lot of people,” said Fulwyler. “The water is very important to us.”