After another historically warm winter with snowpack well below average, Oregon is slipping further into drought. While California receives a lion’s share of the attention in this matter, many Oregon cities and counties are finding themselves in unfamiliar territory, and environmentalists are fearful of the long-term effects of a changing Oregon climate. This month, Kelly House of Oregon Live, delivered an especially insightful piece on the challenges that Oregon is facing. This article will summarize her story, but to check out the real thing visit the article here.
High Precipitation, but low water supplies
Although precipitation was above average in Oregon this year, it came in the form of rain, not snow. Snow pack functions as a summer storage reservoir for Eastern and Southern Oregon. In a normal year, snowpack will gradually melt and sustain streams throughout the drier summer months. This year, however, rain replaced snow that that will only sustain stream flows until the summer months. In an interview Kelly House, Julie Koeberle – a hydrologist with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service – said that “as soon as the rain stops, the source is gone and streams will begin to dry up.”
Across the other three-quarters of Oregon, where rain is already scarce, there is “little hope” for replenishing reservoirs before big agriculture begins making water withdrawals. The National Weather Service has predicted continued high temperatures through the spring, and rainfall well below normal. In an interview with House, Jake Crough – a climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – said that “it will take at least 14 inches to lift Oregon’s driest regions out of the drought.”
The continued drought, now going on four years, has forced Oregon Governor Kate Brown to declare a drought emergency in two of the hardest hit counties, Malheur and Lake Counties. Malheur County will face a significant challenge going into the summer months with the state’s largest reservoir only a quarter-full. With limited surface water supplies, irrigation for crops are relying on precious groundwater reserves, withdrawing faster than the rate of replenishment.
The New Normal
As if low water supply were not enough, Oregon may begin seeing other effects spurred by changing precipitation trends that are likely considered the “new normal.” Kelly House points out that Oregonians may expect to see “fewer healthy fish, fewer seeds in the ground, fewer cattle in the fields and more acres on fire.”
The climate conditions currently seen in Oregon eerily reflect predictions of climate change conditions declared by climatologists for years. That is, “the wet will get wetter and the dry will get drier.” House states that scientists are predicting that Oregon will see “warmer, wetter winters … and hotter, dryer summers.” The effect will be less snowpack and parched land in the summer, which will fundamentally change northwest ecosystems.
 House, Oregon Live, “Oregon Drought Fuels Unease about State’s Long-term Water Security.” http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/03/oregon_drought_fuels_unease_ab.html
 House, “Oregon Drought Fuels Unease about State’s Long-term Water Security.” http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/03/oregon_drought_fuels_unease_ab.html