Oregon Governor issues state drought warning

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Governor issues state drought warning

Published: March 22, 2001

By James Sinks

The Bulletin

SALEM — There isn’t a water crisis — yet — but Gov. John Kitzhaber issued a drought alert Wednesday.

He pointed to projections for far-below-normal stream flows this summer and asked Oregonians to take steps now to conserve water.

The step wasn’t an official drought declaration, though some in the Klamath Basin are seeking such a designation.

But if predictions for a wet spring don’t pan out, parts of the state could face severe enough shortages this summer to trigger water restrictions and even irrigation cutbacks, the governor said.

“It’s dry in the region and it could get drier,” he said. “Instead of waiting, we should be prepared now for the worst. Hope for rain and prepare for drought.”

The water crunch is such that even if rain falls at twice the average level between now and summer, many reservoir and river levels wouldn’t get back to normal, said Paul Cleary, director of the Oregon Water Resources Department.

Stream measurements on March 1 by the agency showed 30 sites statewide were at record lows, he said.

Kitzhaber has reconvened the State Drought Council, which will meet Friday for the first time since 1993 to review and update a statewide drought plan.

Projected streamflows east of the Cascades range from lows of 30 percent in the Klamath Basin to highs of 70 to 80 percent in the Umatilla and Lower Deschutes basins.

Central Oregon won’t have the same problems as most of the state is facing, however.

Even though snowpack is 59 percent of normal in the Upper Deschutes Basin, the river system is fed largely by springs that fluctuate little in their flows, said Bob MacRostie, general manager of Deschutes Valley Water District, which serves the Madras area. “There may not be the runoff, but the base flow will still be there,” he said. “We’re not like the west side. That’s going to be a disaster.”

Still, the river flows in Central Oregon will be less than normal, and that’s triggered some early conservation steps, said Kyle Gorman, Deschutes Basin watermaster.

The region’s farmers have agreed to take about 600 acres out of production this year, a move that will save roughly 4,500 gallons of water per minute.

At the Ochoco Reservoir, the Deschutes flow will be at about 42 percent of the average, he said.

House Speaker Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, who echoed the governor’s call for conservation, said he’s particularly worried about the impact of low water flows on the agricultural industry.

“Whether you are a gardener, a golfer or grain producer, water plays a role in your day-to-day life,” he said. “But for Oregon farmers, it is also a question of their livelihood.”

The agriculture industry is responsible for about 80 percent of Oregon surface water usage, Cleary said.

The governor hopes Wednesday’s announcement has the same impact as his recent plea to Oregonians to reduce power usage.

In the Pacific Northwest, where much of the electricity comes from dams, each drop of water saved will help power production and also salmon runs, he said.

In addition, by keeping electricity usage down this summer, Oregonians will reduce the need to run dam turbines at full tilt.

Unlike Washington state, Oregon has no emergency fund to tap for drought-related expenses. The governor hopes the Legislature allots some money this year for that purpose.

In the Klamath Basin, efforts to save endangered fish are resulting in a water tug-of-war. Water is needed in Upper Klamath Lake to help endangered sucker fish, but more water is needed in the Klamath River for coho salmon, Cleary said.

Basin farmers, who might see little diverted to irrigation canals as a result, are hoping for federal aid — and a state drought designation could help the region land some of those dollars, he said.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation is considering spending as much as $4 million to buy groundwater back from farmers and pay them to not plant as many crops.

In Salem, the city sent notices in water bills this month suggesting residents take voluntary steps to curb water use, such as watering lawns less frequently.

MacRostie said drought conditions elsewhere could help focus attention on ongoing conservation efforts in the Central Oregon area, and that’s always a good thing.

However, it seems people only cut back usage until there’s another abundant water again. “We’ll have a couple wet years and people forget about it,” he said.

In Bend, where about half the summer water comes from Bridge Creek, conservation efforts could make a noticeable difference downstream, Gorman said.

The other half of the city’s summertime water is pumped from wells.

Water tips

Suggested water saving tips for residential users:

- Water lawns before 10 a.m. and mow less frequently because longer grass requires less water.

- Repair leaks in faucets and hose connections. A slow drip can waste 15 to 20 gallons daily.

- Use low volume shower heads. In a five-minute shower, they can reduce water use by 25 gallons.

- Flush toilets only when needed.

- Turn off faucet when brushing teeth and shaving.

- Wash only full loads in washing machine or dishwasher, and use water-saving cycles.

- Keep water in refrigerator instead of running tap to get cool water.

Source: Water Resources



-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 27, 2001


We've just had two days of heavy rains.
It's not enough to raise the resevoirs
but it helps.

-- spider (spider0@usa.net), March 27, 2001.

Of course, in these circumstances any rain is nice. But once a drought has set in, HEAVY rains can be a major problem: if the ground is too dry, the water can't sink in where it lands; you end up with floods and water going where it won't do the most good.

Sigh. Sometimes you just can't win.

-- Andre Weltman (aweltman@state.pa.us), March 27, 2001.

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