Archives : Oregon Drought

A tale of two droughts: 1977 & 2015

February 22nd, 2016
Restoring flows in Whychus Creek and providing, pressurized, fish friendly water for farmers. Photo credit: Mathias Perle, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council

Restoring flows in Whychus Creek and providing, pressurized, fish friendly water for farmers.
Photo credit: Mathias Perle, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council

 

Let me paint a picture of the summer of 1977 in Sisters, Oregon. The population was less than 700 people, many of whom were farmers. A drought had devastated the snowpack in the Cascades, leaving almost no water in Whychus Creek.

What little water flowing in the creek was diverted to fulfill only 10% of the expected water for farmers. That summer, the creek ran dry through the City of Sisters.It was a disaster for fish and a disaster for farming families.

Fast forward 38 years to 2015. Another severe drought hit Central Oregon and much of the West. Snowpack in the Cascades was only a fraction of normal. Mountains were bare. Glaciers were melting.

But what happened in Whychus Creek last year?

“We were able to maintain a daily average flow of 20 cfs in Whychus Creek while delivering 20-40% of expected water to farmers,” said Marc Thalacker, District Manager, Three Sisters Irrigation District. “This was in addition to generatingclean green renewable power and conserving energy.”

Thanks to the forward-thinking water conservation projects that Three Sisters Irrigation District has completed with partners like the Deschutes River Conservancy, last year’s drought was a very different experience.

“Cooperation and collaboration by a wide variety of partner stakeholders made it possible for us to help fish and farmers while reducing Oregon’s carbon footprint.”

We have snow! Is the drought over?

January 23rd, 2016
Photo: Kim Brannock

Photo: Kim Brannock

The current water report from Oregon Water Resources Department Region Manager, Kyle Gorman

The Water Year so far has been a remarkable improvement from last year.  Although, the reservoirs are still showing some lingering effects of the incredibly low snowpack and very warm, dry summer we had, there is hope and anticipation for improvement this year. The snowpack (snow water equivalent in the snow) is at 117%. Last year at this time it was an abysmal 33% of average and on its way to being the worst snowpack on record since automated records began in the early 1980’s. Most notably as a bonus this year is that we have a lot of lower elevation snow that we haven’t had since 2012. This is a large source of recharge and run-off for the basin streams that is not captured in the SNOTEL sites because of their high elevation. The forecast is calling for cool, wet weather for the coming week, which is more good news for water supply.

Better precipitation this year has taken the edge off the drought but we are not out of the woods yet. The winter water storage season started with reservoirs at substantially lower levels than they have been in years and the need for conservation is still very real and is always present.

We are well underway with a basin study that will address water supply issues, climate change, opportunities for irrigation efficiencies, and develop a range of options to meet future water needs. The study will help meet the needs of streams, farms and cities, particularly in times of shortages much like we experienced last year.

Kyle Gorman

Kyle Gorman is the South Central Region Manager at the Oregon Water Resources Department in Bend, Oregon. The OWRD’s mission is to serve the public by practicing and promoting responsible water management.