Oregon drought persists, though recent rainfall reduces severity

June 16, 2022
Oregon drought persists, though recent rainfall reduces severity

With rain storms relentlessly soaking the state throughout spring, Oregonians can be forgiven for assuming that drought fears have dissipated. Many are surprised to learn that worries about water shortages have persisted despite the stubbornly soggy weather, said Ryan Andrews, a hydrologist at the Oregon Water Resources Department. Though the season’s high rainfall and low temperatures have mitigated what could have been a much worse situation, much of Oregon is still enduring a prolonged “mega-drought” that’s afflicting the entire West, Andrews said. “Though the spring precipitation was nice, it was not enough to overcome the long-term deficit,” he said at the June 16 meeting of the state’s Water Resources Commission, which oversees the agency.

Conditions associated with summer, such as reduced stream flows and soil moisture levels, have been delayed, Andrews said.Irrigators and other water users must still “proceed with caution,” though — particularly in areas where drought has remained severe, such as Central Oregon, Andrews said. According to a recent study, the past 22 years represent the West’s worst “mega-drought” in about 1,200 years, he said. A mega-drought is an abnormally dry period that lasts more than two decades. The multi-year drought has lingered through the seasonal intervals of wetness while being aggravated by lower-than-normal snowpacks and earlier “melt-out” in the summer, Andrews said. Last year, OWRD got 600 reports of domestic wells going dry or yielding less water and has received 300 such complaints so far in 2022, he said.

Funding is available for households with low and moderate incomes to repair or replace aging wells. Of course, the extent and intensity of the drought would be exacerbated without this spring’s ample rainfall, he said. Stream flows unfortunately remain below-average in some areas, but statewide the outlook is more optimistic headed into summer, Andrews said. Some irrigation reservoirs were at record-low levels at the end of last summer, but the prolonged rains have helped replenish them while reducing water demand from farmers, he said. “This recent precipitation has really helped in terms of reservoir storage and operations,” he said. -Mateusz Perkowski

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An aerial view of a body of water.