Established near Echo, Oregon as a modest 160-acre homestead in 1914, Madison Ranches has grown to cover more than 17,000 acres of Umatilla County. Of those 17,000 acres, more than 8,150 acres are being irrigated. Water scarcity has been a longstanding issue in Northeastern Oregon and when declining groundwater levels forced the regulation of ground water usage, Madison Ranches’ deep well was shut off completely. It’s now been inactive for more than 20 years. 

Jake Madison Onion Harvest

An Enduring Family Business

Four generations of Madisons have stewarded this ranch since the founding more than a 100 years ago. They employ 29 year-round full-time employees and up to 50 seasonal employees. Through hard work, a few creative solutions and the application of some key technologies, the family has maintained an efficient, diversified and sustainable farming environment.

Facing Declining Resources

Since the late 1950s, groundwater levels in Umatilla County have plummeted down to 500 feet in some areas of the Umatilla Basin, mostly due to use for crop irrigation. A community-based group is working with the state and federal government agencies on continued short-and long-term groundwater management strategies, but levels continue to drop and residents of the area, like Madison Ranches, are forced to look for other sources of water. 

Adapting to the New Environment

Today, most water used for irrigation in the area is pumped from the Columbia River—more than 20 miles to the north—making efficient use and reuse of water vital to the farm’s success. Beginning in 1994, Madison Ranches adopted the technology of precision agriculture. This involves laser-leveling fields, sampling soil and plants, monitoring and maximizing soil fertility, strategically planting and rotating crops, and the use of a deficit-irrigated farm system. This system uses 30 to 50 percent less water than a comparable, traditionally-irrigated farm would use.

Jake Madison Pivot Sunset

Pioneering a Solution

Bringing technology-enabled solutions to the irrigation-dependent farmlands of the Umatilla Basin provides a much-needed solution to the decline in groundwater. Farmers need a way to move water back into the deep wells and aquifers.

Madison Ranch’s unique water reuse system, including the world’s first Aquifer Storage and Recovery system (ASR), does just that. The ASR funnels excess winter run-off water from nearby Butter Creek into shallow groundwater basins. Then, downstream, the water is recollected through a drainage system, treated and pumped into the deep well for storage and reuse during the dry summer months.

The laser-engineered basins and reuse drainage system can store 50 to 1,000 acre-feet of water depending on the amount of winter run-off, and recharge at a rate of 1,000 gallons per minute.

In combination with crop diversification efforts and soil fertility programs, Madison Ranches’ water storage and reuse efforts create sustainable agriculture in irrigation-dependent land. Importantly, the EPA regulates ASRs for protection to ensure underground sources of drinking water resources, so the process is ensured to be safe for agriculture, wildlife, and community residents alike.

Along with Madison Ranch’s commitment to efficiently manage crop soil and water, protecting miles of streambeds and grasses for wildlife habitat establishes this family farm as a leader in sustainable Oregon agriculture.