Second Year Of Extreme Drought Puts Owyhee Basin Farmers On Edge

Apr 6, 2015

Farmers in the Owyhee Basin are bracing for a very difficult summer season because this is the second year of an extreme drought.

The largely agricultural area along the border of Idaho and Oregon gets water from the Owyhee Reservoir, which is at just 27 percent of normal capacity. A dry and warm winter made replenishing the water supply difficult.

The Owyhee Irrigation District serves more than 150,000 acres of farmland. Most is in eastern Oregon, but a chunk is owned by Idaho farmers. They grow things like corn, potatoes, hay and sugar beets - at least in normal years. 

"We're going to lose some growers because of it; they just cannot take three years in a row of greatly-reduced income," says Jay Chamberlin, project manager at the Owyhee Irrigation District. "It would be like asking you to give up two-thirds of your paycheck. How long could you hang on?"

He says this is the third bad year for farmers in his region, and it could be the last straw for some of them.

Chamberlin says irrigation managers are waiting to release water into the region until the last possible moment, but they’re telling farmers not to expect water to flow all season. He says last year, all available water was used up by mid-July, three months before normal. They’re expecting a similar situation this year.

With an official drought declaration, there’s hope they can drill some emergency wells to get water. But without a major change in the drought conditions, Chamberlin says the picture is looking bleak for farmers in the Owyhee Basin.

Find Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio