While Oregon’s mountain snowpack is in much better shape than it was just two months ago, it is likely too little, too late.
April is usually the time when snow peaks around the state, though the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service reports all basins are still behind on snowpack, with most measuring between 40 and 70 percent of normal levels.
The news does not bode well for stream flows or drought conditions heading into summer, said Scott Oviatt, NRCS snow survey supervisor.
“Snow and cooler weather in March was not enough to bring snowpack levels up to normal,” Oviatt said. “Mountain snowpack peaked well below normal this winter at most locations in Oregon.”
As of April 9, snowpack in the John Day Basin was at 55 percent of the average from 1981-2010. Last month, snowpack was at 59 percent. March precipitation was 99 percent of average, but since Oct. 1, precipitation has been 85 percent.
Streamflow forecasts in the John Day Basin range from 49-81 percent of average, and water managers should expect “well below normal” streamflows this summer.
South in the Harney Basin, snowpack was at 59 percent, up from 47 percent last month. Streamflow forecasts in the basin range from 32-62 percent of average, and the NRCS is warning water users to “expect water shortages this summer and prepare accordingly.”
Areas closest to the Columbia River seemed to fare best over the winter, with the Hood River, Sandy and Lower Deschutes basins at 91 percent of normal. The Umatilla, Walla Walla and Willow basins also reached 91 percent of normal.
Southern Oregon, and especially southeast Oregon, are in much rougher shape. The Malheur and Owyhee basins both received less than half their usual snowpack, and the Klamath Basin is sitting at just 47 percent. Gov. Kate Brown has already declared a drought in Klamath County.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is not forecasting much in terms of relief. The next three months will more than likely see average to above-average temperatures across the state, along with below-average precipitation.
“Our best hope is a cool spring that helps to prolong the snow we have further into the season,” Oviatt said.
The NRCS released its April stream flow forecast on Friday. Not surprisingly, it predicts that rivers closest to the Columbia River are expected to have average to near average flows. Others may be “well below normal,” depending on their location.
“Water users that are not able to take advantage of reservoir storage will likely experience significantly reduced water supplies this summer, especially in the southern and southeastern basins of Oregon,” the report states. “The governor declared a drought emergency in Klamath County in March and more counties may follow.”
Summer stream flows could be as low as 30-60 percent of average in the Klamath, Harney, Crooked, Owyhee, Malheur, Lake and Goose Lake basins. The silver lining for Eastern Oregon irrigators is the status of reservoirs, which are storing close to normal amounts of water. Once again, the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Willow basins are at the top of the heap with reservoirs at a collective 123 percent of normal.
The lowest reservoir levels can be found in the Rogue and Umpqua basins of western Oregon, at 88 percent of average.
The Blue Mountain Eagle contributed to this report.