Storms not enough to lift Southern Oregon drought

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GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Early spring storms helped improve snowpacks and reservoir levels across Oregon, but not enough to lift drought concerns in the parched southern part of the state.

The latest report from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service on Friday shows snowpacks, the natural water storage system across the West, were at 36 percent for the Rogue and Umpqua Basins, 33 percent for the Klamath Basin and 46 percent in Lake County.

U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Julie Koeberle says streamflows in the Klamath Basin are forecast to be similar to 2001, when water was cut to a federal irrigation project straddling the Oregon-California border to protect threatened and endangered fish. Streamflows in the Rogue and Umpqua basins are likely to be similar to drought years in 1992, 1981 and 1977.

The outlook is not good for improving things before the summer dry season. Long-range forecasts call for warmer and dryer weather than normal, Koeberle said.

Meanwhile, the 13 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Willamette Basin reservoirs are averaging 89 percent full, and are on track to fill. Lost Creek reservoir on the Rogue is 92 percent full and on track. That is good news for whitewater rafters and irrigators with reservoir water rights.

Conditions improved to the north, where the Willamette Basin, containing the bulk of Oregon’s population, had 61 percent of normal snowpack, and the Upper Deschutes and Crooked river basins in Central Oregon had 62 percent. On March 7, the snowpack on the Willamette Basin was 51 percent, and the Upper Deschutes and Crooked river basins were at 55 percent.

The Hood, Sandy, and Lower Deschutes basins on the northern and eastern flanks of Mount Hood were at 80 percent. The Umatilla, Walla Walla and Willow basins were at 77 percent. Tops for the state was the northeastern corner, where the Grande Ronde, Powder, Burnt and Imnaha basins showed 102 percent of normal snowpack.

The storms that hit the last week of March brought more snow to some locations in the Siskiyou Mountains along the California border than they had seen all winter. The Big Red Mountain automated snow measurement site showed 12 inches on March 26 and 27 inches on April 2. But it was too late for the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, which was not able to open all winter.

“If it hadn’t been for this last storm, I think April 1 would have seen a lot more areas that set new records” for low snowpack, Koeberle said.

Upper Klamath Lake, the primary reservoir for irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project and nearby national wildlife refuges, was at 80 percent capacity and 94 percent of average.

But Clear and Gerber reservoirs on the California side of the project were both low.

Rivers flowing into the lake were forecast at about half of normal or less. Drought last year forced watermasters to shut off irrigation withdrawals by cattle ranches on the Sprague, Wood and Williamson rivers after the Klamath Tribes exercised new senior water rights to protect threatened sucker fish.

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