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Rogue Valley reservoirs remain in ‘uncharted territory’ after a summer of drought

A map of the reservoir water levels in the Talent Irrigation District.
Talent Irrigation District
A map of the reservoir water levels in the Talent Irrigation District.

Recent storms brought much-needed precipitation to Southern Oregon. But after a year of drought, the region’s reservoirs haven’t improved much.

Storms have dumped nearly eight inches of precipitation in Medford since the beginning of October. But reservoirs around the Rogue Valley are at similar levels as they were in late summer 2021.

Emigrant and Hyatt lakes are each three percent full. Howard Prairie Lake is five percent full. These reservoirs make up the Talent Irrigation District, which supplies irrigation water to three thousand landowners, according to their website.

“I would expect it’s going to take a couple years at the least to get back to where we can maybe get the reservoirs up where they used to be,” says Wanda Derry, the interim manager for the Talent Irrigation District.

Derry says this December has seen more snow than the same time last year. Part of the reason the reservoirs are so low is because the new snowpack has not yet melted into water, but the meager water supply is a sign that it’s too soon to talk about the end of the drought.

“This last year was the worst year on record for us since our project was built,” Derry says. “This is uncharted territory for us for sure.”

The City of Ashland gets most of its water from Reeder Reservoir, which is much smaller than the Talent Irrigation District lakes. City records show it’s at 62% capacity, which, according to city officials, is a level it’s maintained at to avoid flood potential.

Water for the City of Medford comes from Big Butte Springs near Mt. McLoughlin. Medford city officials did not respond to an interview request.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.