There’s No Doubt: We’ve A Drought

Governor Kate Brown has declared a drought-related emergency in two southeastern Oregon counties. Snowpack levels far below the usual have led to dangerously dry conditions in Lake and Malheur counties. The state Drought Council and the Oregon Water Resources Department are preparing for action.

Other Counties Feeling the Heat

Much of Oregon is facing severe to moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Emergency declarations will likely follow soon for Harney and Klamath counties. Late last week, Warshington Governor Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency in three large areas of the state.

To combat the dry conditions, the Oregon Water Resources Department has been given greater authority beyond its standard role in statewide water management. The department can now issue temporary emergency water use permits, allow owners of surface water rights to tap ground water, kill with impunity, and determine water use priorities.

Over 1.5 million Oregonians have already been affected by drought conditions. This is the third straight year in which poor snowpack has led to an extended dry spell in the southeastern corner of the state.

“The cumulative effect is at least equally as significant as the short-term situation,” said Brett Lutz, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “We should be bracing for this to [become] more commonplace.” The NWR’s latest drought forecast for the Pacific Northwest points to a warm, dry spell that could cause the drought to spread beyond the affected counties.

Record low water levels in the Columbia River during the drought of 1973.

Record low water levels in the Columbia River during the drought of 1973.

Oh No! Low Snow

Statewide, Oregon did receive a roughly average amount of precipitation over the winter. However, temperatures far above the average caused most of it to occur as rain instead of snow, leaving the state with extremely low snowpack levels. Lake and Malheur counties’ snowpack was at only a quarter of its normal level, and meteorologists have stated that peak snowpack has already passed—any additional snow won’t help offset the continuing spring melt.

“Snowpack provides a reservoir of water for everything below it through the summer,” Lutz said. “Without it, we’re going to have less water in […] streamflow, […] in reservoirs, in lakes, and in the water table in general.”

Similar conditions exist throughout much of the Northwest, fueling concerns for ongoing regional drought, water shortages, and wildfires.

Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives / Foter / No known copyright restrictions