Oregon has endured historically low snowpack in 2015, exacerbating drought conditions for farms, fish and forests heading into summer.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service released its June water supply report on Friday, which shows 60 percent of the state’s snow telemetry sites measured their lowest snowpack on record last winter.
In the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Willow basins, snowpack peaked at about 50-60 percent of normal and melted off between four and nine weeks earlier than usual, according to the report. The Umatilla River is expected to flow through Pendleton at just 38 percent of its average volume from June through September.
The report says water managers should expect “significant water shortages” this summer. Gov. Kate Brown has already declared a drought emergency in 15 counties, including Umatilla and Morrow counties.
Scott Oviatt, NRCS snow survey supervisor, said there is usually at least some snow still left this time of year in the northern Blue Mountains. However, most of the snowmelt this year peaked around February, with virtually none left to replenish streams and reservoirs into summer.
In fact, of the 81 snow sites across Oregon, only one has any measurable snow left, Oviatt said.
“Water managers and water users just need to be prudent,” he said. “There’s not going to be as much water as we’re accustomed to using for irrigation and other uses, but if conservation measures are applied, there should be adequate supplies.”
The governor’s drought declaration does allow water managers greater flexibility to help irrigators with emergency water use permits and temporary transfer of water rights, if needed. The NRCS has also made available up to $2.5 million for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in those counties to enhance their conservation practices.
Applications are due to the local USDA Service Center on Friday, 26.
Meanwhile, dry conditions prompted the Oregon Department of Forestry to declare the start of fire season Saturday in the Central Oregon District, which covers 2.2 million acres of private and public forest and rangeland in Crook, Deschutes, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Hood River, Jefferson, Morrow, Wasco and Wheeler counties.
Fire season has not yet been declared in the Northeast Oregon District, though Mitch Williams, wildland protection supervisor for ODF in La Grande, said they also expect an early start unless conditions change.
The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly all of Eastern Oregon in either severe or extreme drought.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-564-4547.