Turning Water into Wine … Well, Sorta: Jackson County Watermaster Travis Kelly
Water is, of course, essential to the process of growing grapes—and making the Rogue Valley one of the country’s best wine regions. We caught up with the region’s Watermaster to get the lowdown on what a Watermaster is, and the state of water in southern Oregon.
Rogue Valley Messenger: What exactly does a Watermaster do?
Travis Kelly: Represent the Oregon Water Resources Department. Protect the water resources of Oregon. Respond to water disputes and water use complaints. Regulate water use for senior water rights and non-compliance with Oregon water law.Conduct dam safety inspections and inspect well construction. Collect and compile hydrologic data. Make stream flow discharge measurements of rivers, streams, and canals. Operate and maintain stream gaging stations. Groundwater level monitoring. Conduct snow surveys. Work with other State agencies, Federal agencies, local governments, watershed councils, and other groups to develop and promote water management programs and assist in the restoration/protection of stream flows.
RVM: How long have you been Jackson County’s Watermaster?
TK: Three years as Watermaster and five years as Jackson County Assistant Watermaster
RVM: What is the current state of our water availability in Jackson County right now, and how can residents help improve it?
TK: Water year 2016 has been much better than the past couple of water years. Winter precipitation in Jackson County was near average. This resulted in good water availability for the irrigation season, reservoir levels were adequate to meet irrigation needs and live stream flow levels have held out much later into the summer than the last couple of years. Surface water rights available for new water uses generally limited to the main stem of the Rogue River below Lost Creek Dam and the main stem of the Applegate River below Applegate Dam. Winter storage rights of surface water is available in many watersheds. This type of water use requires two water rights, one to store the water in a reservoir and another right to use the water from the reservoir. Groundwater rights are available as long as the well is located over 1/4 mile from the nearest stream. Residents can help by conserving water in their daily lives. This could include limiting outside watering or converting to less water intensive planting/crop types. More information on water conservation is available on the Water Resources Department website.
RVM: This is our Wine issue, with a focus on the sustainability of the wine industry here in the Rogue Valley. How sustainable are our wineries in regards to water usage?
TK: The source of the water used for wineries determines their sustainability regarding water usage. If the wineries use surface water the yearly precipitation determines if adequate water will be available for their needs. If they use groundwater the relative recharge rate versus the demands on the aquifer they use determines the long term sustainability of their needs.
RVM: What are some other considerations when it comes to the water that wineries use?
TK: Anyone thinking of vineyard development should check on water availability, including contacting their local Watermaster and checking our online Water Rights Information System for information.
RVM: How do you see water availability affecting the wine industry in the Rogue Valley in coming years?
TK: The sources available for new water rights will limit the viable locations for new vineyards.
RVM: Do you recommend drinking water straight from the tap, or filtering it first?
TK: I am charged with regulating water quantity not quality, but the source of the water would determine if it needs to be filtered.
RVM: Aquafina or Dasani?
TK: Neither, if consuming a beverage in a bottle I drink wine not water.