SALEM - Recent rains have reduced the chances that Gov. Ted Kulongoski will declare a statewide drought emergency, state climatologist George Taylor said.
But while April rainfall has been normal in northeast Oregon, the region remains well below average rainfall for the calendar and crop year.
"The whole state is really looking better, with April rainfall well above average in many places," Taylor said Tuesday. "Reservoir levels on the west side are up, although Eastern Oregon is still facing water supply shortages."
The shortages east of the Cascades led the Oregon Drought Council on Tuesday to recommend that Kulongoski issue drought emergencies in Wheeler, Deschutes and Lake counties. If the governor follows through, 11 of Oregon's 36 counties would be considered in a drought.
Earlier this month, Kulongoski declared drought status in six counties: Umatilla, Morrow, Hood River, Sherman, Gilliam and Crook. In March, he had declared emergencies in Baker and Klamath counties.
The designations provide "flexible water management tools to irrigators, municipalities and other water users, not generally available under Oregon law." A statewide drought would allow farmers to tap emergency wells and authorize the state to limit non-essential use of water.
A wet weather system drenched many parts of the state last weekend, Taylor said. After three months of below-average rainfall, Redmond received 1.28 inches of rain Friday through Monday - about a quarter-inch less than fell in all of January, February and March.
So far this month at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton, the National Weather Service has recorded .93 inches of precipitation, just .04 inches shy of normal.
But in the first four months of the year, just 2.74 inches of precipitation has fallen at the airport, down 2.16 inches or just 56 percent of the normal 4.9 inches during the period.
For the crop year, which began Oct. 1, precipitation has totaled 5.11 inches at the airport, down 3.89 inches, or just 57 percent of the normal 9 inches in the seven-month period.
Six weeks of above-average rainfall in the Willamette River Basin has brought five reservoirs to normal or above-normal levels, officials said, improving the outlook for fish migration, irrigation, power generation and recreation this spring and summer.
But Andy Bryant, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Portland, said spring rains can't completely erase the winter snow deficit.
"We continue to emphasize, especially for eastern parts of the state, that water shortages in most Central and Eastern Oregon basins are likely," Bryant said.