The West Coast of the United States is experiencing a drought. The world knows about the Caldor fire and its damage in California. However, the drought extends farther north. In fact, some farmers in Oregon are dealing with cracked dirt and tumbleweeds.
On the other hand, other farmers are growing healthy crops and lush fields on which their cattle graze. There isn’t much they can do to lighten the burden of less fortunate farmers due to strict and antiquated water laws.
“We’re in a severe drought,” Phil Fine, a carrot seed farmer in Oregon’s North Unit Irrigation District, told the Associated Press. “The natural flow in the Deschutes right now is less than anybody’s ever seen it. Now, keep in mind that we said that a month ago, we said that two months ago, we said that two weeks ago. It keeps going down.”
The lowering of the region’s main water supply is only the beginning for Fine. The North Unit Irrigation District is the junior district in the Deschutes basin. This means that they are last in line to get water. Fine had to shut his operation down because they had no water to irrigate their crops.
Matt Lisignoli has land in the Central Oregon Irrigation District, which is first in line for water, as well as the North Unit District. His farm in the Central Oregon District is lush and has water to spare. His pumpkin farm in the North Unit, however, is suffering due to the combination of the West Coast’s drought and its location.
Water Laws Make the West Coast Drought Harder on Oregon Farmers
These two farmers and their crops outline the water disparity that is only highlighted by the West Coast’s current drought. However, outdated water laws restrict the equitable spread of water. The law at the root of the issue states “first in time, first in right.” So, districts with older claims to water have are first in line to get water. Other districts fall in line behind them.
Both Fine and Lisignoli operate farms in the Deschutes River Basin in Central Oregon. Together, they show the disparity in water access in their region. This problem is common to farmers across the state.
However, Lisignoli shows that bureaucracy makes those laws harder to navigate. He tried to move water from his more prosperous crop to his suffering land. However, he had to go through so much red tape that he ended up paying tens of thousands of dollars to a vineyard for extra water. The wheels just move too slowly to keep up.
According to AP, farmers as well as the managers of the districts are trying to find a way to spread the water more evenly. However, each option comes with its own set of problems.