Farmers brace for dry summer after worst winter snowpack since 1992

Of the 112 snow monitoring sites statewide, 15 had snow on May 1.

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Of the 112 snow monitoring sites statewide, 15 had snow on May 1. That doesn’t bode well for the state’s farmers.

Spring rains have become a welcome sight for Oregon’s water-dependent industries but likely won’t be enough.

From the Portland Business Journal:

“The precipitation that we’re getting now helps because it delays irrigation demand,” said Julie Koeberle, NRDC hydrologist for Oregon. “But we are in such a deficit that we’re going to see shortages.” …

The NRDS launched a drought assistance site to advise farmers, ranchers and land owners with conservation strategies and other steps to protect soil during drought. Below-average precipitation coupled with higher-than-average temperatures ensured that much of the precipitation that fell over the winter landed as rain rather than snow. A round of late-April snowstorms delighted skiers, but did little to put water into the system.

At 11 percent of the average statewide, the snowpack is the lowest it’s been since 1992, the Associated Press reports.

Last year, Oregon saw far deeper snowpacks, ranging from 120 percent of normal in the northeastern corner of the state, to 18 percent in the Klamath Basin, with about half of average in the central part of the state. Oregon does not export water to other drought-stricken states in the West, but the Klamath River does flow from Oregon through Northern California before reaching the Pacific Ocean.

If the Southern Pacific Ocean warming condition known as El Nino persists into next winter, it could mean another dry winter in the Northwest. Around the state, snowpack ranged from zero in the Klamath Basin to 16 percent in northeastern Oregon. Major federal reservoirs were about half full in much of the Willamette Basin.

According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, the problem is more acute in Oregon than Washington state.

The southern Willamette Valley’s Lane County could soon be added to the list of seven southern and eastern counties in drought emergency status. According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council,  76 percent of Oregon’s long-term snow monitoring sites were at the lowest snowpack levels on record in April. In a typical year at that time, most sites would be near their peak snowpack. [water supply specialist with the National Resources Conservation Service Scott] Pattee says he’s worried that there won’t be enough water to go around later on in the season, and right now, conservation is the top priority. 

“Let’s not irrigate lawns this year. Let’s not wash cars every week,” he said. “I might sound like a broken record saying that but it’s the obvious things that still need to be stated I think because some people don’t realize the obvious.” 


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