Photo: Members of Jefferson County Farm Bureau hosted two tours this fall to share with local, state, and federal lawmakers, conservation groups, and others about how farmers work closely with local irrigation districts to maximize water efficiency. Threatened lawsuits involving the spotted frog may jeopardize already limited water availability.
November, 2015: Will the ESA-listed spotted frog become the spotted owl for Central Oregon? Not if Jefferson County Farm Bureau has anything to do about it.
This summer, two environmental groups— the Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch of Oregon — threatened to sue the Bureau of Reclamation and the North Unit, Central Oregon, and Tumalo Irrigation Districts under the Endangered Species Act, alleging that habitat for the Oregon Spotted Frog was being impacted. The groups want operations at Crescent Lake and Wickiup and Crane Prairie reservoirs to be changed to better protect the frog.
That’s a scary thought for farmers in Jefferson County, whose water availability is already stretched thin in the midst of an ongoing drought.
“Irrigators in North Unit, which is primarily in Jefferson County, have junior water rights. And those rights are associated with stored water in Wickiup reservoir,” said Kevin Richards of Jefferson County Farm Bureau. “With these potential lawsuits, there’s a threat that farmers will not have access to the amount of water we typically have.”
As of the writing of this article, no lawsuit has been filed.
In an effort to bring awareness to this issue — along with the challenges farmers face in a prolonged drought — Jefferson County Farm Bureau organized two tours to highlight the innovative work the North Unit Irrigation District and local farmers have done to improve water efficiency and conservation. The tours focused on the operations of the irrigation district and recent and ongoing efficiency investments and improvements, and also included visits to farms to discuss on-farm conservation practices in water use, soil management, and other environmental practices.
A land use and resource conservation group attended the tour on Sept. 30, while the tour on Oct. 8 included congressional staff, county commissioners, city council reps, media, and the Oregon Dept. of Ag.
“The tours were very successful and a great opportunity to show how Jefferson County farmers and the irrigation district are working together, being proactive, and doing our part to conserve water,” said Richards.
The tour also achieved the always important goals of general outreach and education for the public. The region produces high-value specialty crops, including carrot seed, onion seed, grass seed, garlic, and mint for peppermint oil — often a surprise to even local residents.
“It’s common for folks to not have a full grasp of what we raise and how we farm here in Jefferson County,” said Richards. “People are continually amazed by what’s going on right on the farm and how the irrigation district is working with its patrons to make efficiency improvements.”
As the situation progresses, Jefferson County Farm Bureau will continue its great work representing the concerns of members and raising awareness of farmers’ dedication to environmental stewardship.
Story by Oregon Farm Bureau