Jessica Prokop

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September 8, 2013
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Douglas County's landscape bakes, but rivers roll on

As Roseburg sweats through a hot and parched summer, rivers and streams keep rolling along at levels not far below normal.

Only 8.66 inches of rain have fallen at the Roseburg Regional Airport since Jan. 1, the least amount of precipitation by this time of year on record, according to the National Weather Service.

Plus, Roseburg experienced its hottest July on record.

The combination of heat and drought dried out vegetation and has caused a long fire season, but timely showers have replenished waterways.

“I’ve been predicting since May that we are one week away from a large-scale regulation on the South Umpqua (River), but we’ve had just enough rainfall to stay above the minimum stream flow. It’s kind of a surprise,” Douglas County Watermaster Dave Williams said.

A dry fall, though, could change the outlook. A little rain fell Friday, but it was the first measurable precipitation in Roseburg this month.

“If we have a warmer and drier remainder of the irrigation season, we are looking at regulations on the South Umpqua River,” Williams said.

Flows last week in the South Umpqua River at Winston, the North Umpqua River at Winchester and the Umpqua River at Elkton were only slightly below normal for early September.

Water users haven’t entirely escaped restrictions. Water rights have been curtailed on Deer, Calapooya and Quines creeks. The city of Sutherlin, which draws water from Calapooya Creek, asked residents to voluntarily conserve water.

Summertime restrictions on water rights, though, are routine. Quines Creek near Azalea usually runs low in the summer, said Clay Dickerson, 69, who draws water from the creek to irrigate his pasture. Dickerson’s water rights were shut off at the end of July for about 10 days, then thunderstorms brought some relief. “It’s getting pretty low again,” he said last week.

By this time of year, Roseburg typically has received roughly 20 inches of rain. It averages about 32 inches a year. Weather records for the city are spotty, but Roseburg received only 23.23 inches of rain in 1944, according to the Western Regional Climate Center. Even if Roseburg receives an average amount of rainfall in the final four months this year, 2013 could be drier than 1944.

A long-range forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there’s an even change precipitation will be above or below normal in September, October, November and December.

“There is no indication to expect anything out of the ordinary,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Brett Lutz in Medford.

By a different measure, Roseburg is hardly in a drought. The “rain year” starts Oct. 1. Roseburg’s rainfall for the past 12 months is only a few inches below normal.

“It was pretty wet in 2012,” Lutz said.

Since summer began June 20, however, Roseburg has received 1.02 of an inch of rain. Almost half of that, .43 of an inch, fell Aug. 25.

Statewide, Oregon had its driest July ever, receiving only 7 percent of its normal rainfall, according to NOAA.

Roseburg has not had a single day this year that was 100 degrees or hotter, but temperatures have been above normal and were record-setting in July.

The average temperature that month was 74.6 degrees, more than 4 degrees warmer than average and almost 2 degrees warmer than the previous record set in 1939.

The average high temperature was 90.1 degrees, also a record. The previous record was 89 degrees set in 1960.

The average August temperature was 72.8 degrees, 2.7 degrees warmer than average, according to the weather service.

Douglas County ranchers without irrigated pastures reported having to sell cattle earlier and at lighter weights than usual because the lack of rain meant too little grass for grazing.

For others, though, it’s been business as usual, barely.

Lucia Goheen of Azalea said she anticipates water shortages by filling tanks with water from Quines Creek before the summer. The tanks hold six weeks worth of water for her garden, she said.

“This year if it hadn’t been for the thunderstorms, the six-week storage wouldn’t have made it,” she said. “The watermaster let me refill two tanks because of the rain that helped replenish the creek.”

• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and

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The News-Review Updated Sep 12, 2013 10:19AM Published Sep 10, 2013 08:59AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.