SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Lagging snowfall early in the season in Oregon could mean a tough, dry summer for farmers and ranchers around the state.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Resources Conservation Service says the amount of water from snow that’s fallen in Oregon right now is just 45% of normal statewide, the Capitol Press reported.
Water from melting snow is crucial for replenishing streams and reservoirs for farms and fish, particularly in eastern Oregon where the climate is drier.
Every water basin is measuring below average for snow except for the Owyhee Basin in southeastern Oregon, which stands at 117% of normal. The lowest totals are in the Hood, Sandy and Lower Deschutes basins at 25% of normal, and the Willamette Basin at 26%.
Scott Oviatt, the agency’s snow survey supervisor for Oregon, said the first water supply outlook for agricultural and fish interests will be released Jan. 10.
“We’re not in panic mode yet,” Oviatt said. “It is early in the (water) year. … We can see some improvement, depending on conditions.”
The water year, as defined by hydrologists, begins on Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30 of the following calendar year.
November and December are typically much cooler and wetter months, but most of the state’s 90 snow-monitoring sites are measuring less than 8 inches of snow-water equivalent, Oviatt said, and overall precipitation — including rain — is on average half of normal.
The Oregon Water Resources Department reports that November in particular was one of the top five driest months on record for Northwest Oregon.
Racquel Rancier, spokeswoman for that department, said that average stream flows were just 40% of normal statewide as of Dec. 30.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly 98% of Oregon listed in some stage of drought, ranging from “abnormally dry” to “moderate.”
Conditions were much the same at this time last year, too, when snowpack was just 42% of normal levels in early January. Then came February, which brought drought-busting winter storms that dumped several feet of snow at higher elevations and boosted snow-water equivalent by 20% to 30%.
“At this point, our message will be to watch the conditions,” Oviatt said. “Let’s just hope for improvement at this point.”