‘Strange' winter, but water still looks good

May 14, 2012
‘Strange' winter, but water still looks good

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin

Published: May 14. 2012 4:00AM PST

Streams flowing out of the Central Oregon Cascades should be rushing at average levels or above this year, while tributaries of the Crooked River are likely to be fairly meager.

A “strange year” of sporadic winter and spring storms hitting between dry spells led to the streamflow forecast issued this week by the National Resource Conservation Service, said Jon Lea, snow survey program manager for the agency in Portland.

Around Bend, a dry period extending from the beginning of December to early January left snowpack numbers below average, but a series of storms in the months since improved the situation.

“It finally caught up to near-normal conditions a couple of weeks into April,” Lea said.

Around the Crooked River, however, snow arrived late and melted early, he said. As a result, flows into Prineville Reservoir this year could be as modest as 36 percent of average.

But water users downstream from Prineville Reservoir, as well as from Ochoco Reservoir, should receive a full allotment of water this year, said Kyle Gorman, regional manager for the Oregon Department of Water Resources in Bend.

The late winter and early spring storms filled both reservoirs, he said, meaning downstream flows will be good this summer even if relatively little water is coming in.

In the Deschutes River Basin, Crescent Lake and Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs are also full.

The robust summer water supply is a surprise, Gorman said, considering the dry stretches of winter.

“... This year turned out to be a great water year, which we didn't expect when we were looking at it back in February,” he said.

Scientists with the National Resource Conservation Service measure snow levels around the state from midwinter until mid-spring, using the information to help form their streamflow forecast. Lea said there will be one more streamflow forecast for the year issued in early June.

Summer is typically the dry season in Central Oregon, said Rob Brooks, a forecaster for the National Weather Service office in Pendleton. June, July and August typically receive about a half an inch of rain in Bend.

He said the 90-day outlook for Central Oregon calls for nothing out of the ordinary. Most summertime rainfall arrives with sporadic thunderstorms.

“If you guys don't have thunderstorms in the Bend area, you don't usually get a lot of precipitation,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,


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An aerial view of a body of water.