Drought Update

Winter is approximately 1/3 over, so there’s a lot of time for things to change, but I thought I’d comment on where things stand so far. The short answer is, not good. Central Oregon remains in moderate to extreme drought conditions, we need significantly more than normal snow, probably for multiple years, to get out of it, and so far we are below normal. If you want to dig in more, keep reading. There are many interesting infographics if you like this sort of thing.

As you can see in the graph below, drought is the new normal for Oregon. Over the past 20 years, much of the state has been in some level of drought most of the time. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there is little acknowledgement of this and no action being taken.

Here’s the latest snowpack data. As you can see, Central Oregon is well under normal. This could easily change in the next few months, but the amount of change required to return to “normal” is quite large. More than above normal snow, we need “normal” spring and summer temperatures, which are much cooler than we have seen in many years. It does little good to have a reasonable snowpack if it quickly melts. In the past, Central Oregon was blessed with large snowpack and cool temperatures which caused the water to be released slowly throughout the spring and summer.

Obviously, no one knows what the rest of the winter will bring, but the forecast is for continued, although somewhere lesser drought locally.

The bigger issue, especially in Central Oregon, is that the drought has been persistent enough to drain groundwater supplies. Along the east sides of the Cascades, the hydrology is groundwater-based. Snow melts into porous lava and fills an aquifer, which then drains out as rivers and streams. Our aquifer is not being replenished as it has in the past, leading to lower river levels, lower reservoirs, and residential wells going dry. We need a lot of snow to fill it back up. We also need a regime change in local water management. Our climate is heating and drying, our aquifer is not being replenished, our booming population needs more water, and we continue to do very little about it.