Where did the water go? How the drought is affecting Central Oregon


What will the drought mean for Central Oregon?
January 2015 marked the warmest winter on record
for Oregon since record taking began in 1895,
according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
California isn’t faring any better with 2015 showing
to be the driest on record prompting Governor
Jerry Brown to sign the “first ever statewide mandatory
water reductions,” according to the state’s
website ca.gov. This comes a year after Governor
Brown declared a State drought emergency last year
in January of 2014.
While Oregon State does not have the magnitude
of agriculture that California does, parts of Oregon’s
economy is heavily based on agricultural products.
West of the Cascades, in the Willamette Valley vegetables,
tree fruits, berries, hazelnuts, wine grapes,
hops, diary, and timber are the region’s staple crops,
whereas alfalfa, hay, garlic, and beef cattle make
up Central Oregon’s most profitable agricultural
products, according to Oregon Department of Agriculture.
While Deschutes County has not been
hit as hard by the drought, Oregon’s Governor Kate
Brown signed a drought state of emergency for
neighboring Crook County on April 7.
“[The drought] will certainly affect farmers on
the West side more than it will affect farmers on the
East side in the beginning because the West side,
like the Willamette Valley, is much more reliant
upon snowmelt-fed streams, such as the Willamette
or the McKenzie. The Deschutes is driven largely
by stored water in the aquifer,” said Ron Reuter,
associate professor of natural resources at Oregon
State University-Cascades, who teaches soil science
and ecology.
The aquifer in Deschutes County gets refilled
from both precipitation and snowmelt unlike the
aquifers West of the Cascades that rely solely on
snowpack. As long as we are getting a normal
amount of rainfall, those aquifers can recharge,
Reuter added. “In California they’re in the middle
of probably what is going to be a 10 year
drought,” Reuter said. “They’re reliant, just like
the Willamette Valley on snowmelt getting into
their aquifer, which they don’t have the snow to
get that water in there.”
There are other problems associated with the
water depletion from the aquifer.
“Water is non-compressible, so its actually
holding up a lot of that land area, and what they
are finding is that with aquifer depletion, when
you take that water out you are getting land settling,”
Reuter added.
Effects on wildlife habitats
Another effect of the drought, are the impacts
on wildlife habitat, including those on fish life,
and micro-invertebrate (insects) populations.
“For fish it means the stream temperatures are
likely to get warmer and [possibly] too warm for
fish earlier in the season than they typically do,”
said Lauren Mork, monitoring coordinator for the
Upper Deschutes Watershed Council.
One of goals of The Upper Deschutes Watershed
Council is to monitor stream temperatures
for the Deschutes River, Tumalo Creek and
Whychus Creek, to determine if stream temperatures
are too high for survival of native fish species
including trout, and whether restoration is
Temperatures are expected reach above 18 degrees
Celsius this year, which is the biological requirement
for trout, rearing and migration. When
temperatures exceed 18 degrees trout cannot grow
or thrive and will even die if the temperatures get
high enough, added Mork.
“This year we are at around five percent snowpack
in the Cascades, that will affect stream flow
particularly on creeks that don’t have reservoirs
Stream flow is diverted for irrigation on the Deschutes,
Tumalo Creek, and Whychus Creek,”
Mork said.
On the Deschutes River there are reservoirs that
are actually full because we did receive enough
precipitation. On Tumalo Creek and Whychus
Creek where there aren’t reservoirs, we will only
have what is currently stored in snowpack.
The Deschutes River Conservancy is one nonprofit
organization that works to restore stream
flow and increase water quality in the Deschutes
“One thing we have seen over the years, as
stream flow restoration has occurred the microinvertebrate
community has become characterized
by species that prefer cooler temperatures, so we
are actually seeing them respond to temperatures
coming down with increased flows,” Mork said.


Michael Gary | The Broadside
(Contact: mgary@cocc.edu)



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