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Oregon: Drought Hits Crook County Ranchers

April 9, 2014

Ranchers in Cook County, Ore., are preparing for drought conditions to continue.
By: DYLAN J. DARLING, The Bulletin

Although a wet February and March eased some drought concern in Crook County, Ore., the head of the Ochoco Irrigation District isn't sure whether he'll be able to make full deliveries to all 862 of his customers this year.

"We are not exactly sure how much water there will be for crops," Mike Kasberger, manager for the district, which encompasses about 20,000 acres, said Tuesday. All the land is in Crook County, in and around Prineville, and is used for crops including hay, grains and carrot seeds, as well as pasture for cattle.

Following a dry spell in Central Oregon from November through January, Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a drought emergency for the county. The March 21 declaration will expedite transfers of water rights this summer, said Jeremy Giffin, Deschutes Basin watermaster for the Oregon Water Resources Department.

"The drought (declaration) gives you quite a bit of flexibility," he said.

Although the declaration will soften the impact, the drought will hit growers and ranchers, particularly those upstream of Ochoco Reservoir, which is fed by Mill and Ochoco creeks, and upstream of Prineville Reservoir, which is along the Crooked River.

"That is where we are really going to see the effects of the drought," Giffin said.

The growers and ranchers upstream of the reservoirs rely on snowmelt and rainfall for their water, and this year there simply isn't much snow.

Jim Wood, 55, owner of the Aspen Valley Ranch in Post, said the governor's drought declaration will offer some relief, and he is thankful county leaders called for it, but it will still be a tough summer.

"It is going to help," he said, "but it is not going to make water appear."

Growers in the Mill Creek Valley typically are able to have two cuttings of hay in a growing season, said Jim Bauersfeld, 66, a hay grower there. This year he only expects to have one.

He also expects to reduce how much land he irrigates by about 25 to 30 percent. Normally he irrigates 350 acres.

Bauersfeld has been growing hay in the valley for 22 years, with last year being one of the driest.

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RELATED TOPICS: Water, Beef News, drought, West Region

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