Still a ways to go to bust drought
Last updated 1/18/2023 at Noon
Looking around Sisters Country and seeing standing water in many places might lead one to conclude that we’re inundated with water. Not really. While recent rains and snows are a welcome sign, and indeed there is some slight improvement to our years-long drought, the numbers say we have a long road ahead.
Sisters Country is still clocking in at D2 (Severe Drought) as compared to a year ago on this date when we were recording D3 (Extreme). Just a few miles away, Bend remains at D3 and our friends in Prineville are at D4 (Exceptional). Over the pass is still rated as Abnormally High.
Some 547,078 persons in Oregon are affected by drought; 23 of our 36 counties are in water distress. The year 2022 was the 32nd driest year in 128 years of record keeping.
There are encouraging signs, albeit slight. Sisters Country is in the Upper Deschutes River Basin, where reservoir storage capacities are at 46 percent compared to 43 percent a year ago. Our precipitation storage is at 89 percent of median average versus 96 percent last January 15.
The most critical number is SWE (snow water equivalent), the amount of water the snow is holding, the melt of which we will live off next summer. There, we are at 100 percent of normal, whereas last year on this date we were at 108 percent.
At Three Creeks Meadow we are sitting on 26 inches of snow. OK, but not great, hydrologists worry. That is an improvement from last January 15 when it was at 21.2 inches.
Statewide, prospects are brighter. As worrisome as the drought has been for our basin, the Klamath and southeast Oregon basins have faced devastating drought. On Sunday, snow water equivalency in the Owyhee Basin registered 154 percent of normal. At bordering Harney Basin it’s a whopping 186 percent. Klamath is registering 122 percent.
Hoodoo Ski Area’s base is at 43 inches — enough to ski on. That could improve as the forecast for the week is colder temps and heavy snow, which will increase snow coverage. It is not snow depth that has kept Hoodoo’s popular Autobahn tubing park closed — it’s staffing.
Next door in Crook County they are recording the highest drought level — D4 — for the fourth straight year. Only Crook County is in the D4 index. The Ochoco and Prineville reservoirs are at just 10 percent capacity, the lowest January readings in decades.
The County has declared an emergency and has asked Governor Kotek to do the same, providing relief funds for distressed farmers and ranchers.