After the biggest snowstorm in decades hit Douglas County this week, the one upside may be drought relief.
Recent rain and snow helped bring a portion of the county out of drought for the first time since spring 2018 last week. But the county’s need for water isn’t totally satisfied, according to Susan Douthit, watermaster for the county.
More than 60 percent of the county is still in a “moderate” drought as of Feb. 26, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Almost 30 percent of the county is classified as “abnormally dry.” Ten percent is completely drought-free.
“We got a big dose and that’s great,” Douthit said. “Unfortunately, an extended period of dryness it not necessarily solved by a week of super great moisture.”
Snow pack in the Umpqua and Rogue basins is at 115 percent of normal compared to the 30-year median as of March 1, according to the Natural Resources and Conservation Service. Additionally, streamflows in the basin are as much as 150 percent of normal this week.
But after almost nine months of drought conditions, it will take many more weeks of rain and snow in the mountains — preferably late into spring — to meet the county’s water needs ahead of summer, Douthit said.
“It’s all about timing,” Douthit said. “Ask me on my birthday how the water is. My birthday is in April. Then we will have a better sense. Again, this could all be gone. Next week we get 60 degrees, we’re done.”
This week’s precipitation was about double the average for the last week of February, according to the National Weather and Climate Center’s weekly update. Precipitation for the last three months has been as low as 50 to 70 of average in some areas of the county, however, according to the report.
“We need water in the heat of the summer,” Douthit said. “So how do we retain the water or store the water until then. Thankfully, folks in Douglas County along Cow Creek and South Umpqua have access to the Galesville Reservoir.”
The recent storms brought the reservoir up a couple feet, Douthit said. But she added “we are 12 feet below where we want to be” at the Galesville Reservoir. “We need six or seven times more of this before we’re even average,” she said.
It’s almost inevitable that water usage regulations will be imposed on areas of the county this summer, according to Douthit.
“We’re still going to have our folks on the Calapooya that see me every year on their doorstep this year, despite 15 inches of snow at my house,” Douthit said.
There’s a 40 to 50 percent chance temperatures across Oregon will be above average during the next three months, according to the National Weather Service. The forecast predicts precipitation for the next three months will be average.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Douthit said about how the recent storms will help the county’s water resources.
It’s the week before snow shut down area schools for a week. At 9:12 a.m., Fremont Middle School Principal Ben Bentea makes an announcement.
“Teachers, secure your classroom, this is a lockdown,” he said. “This is a drill.”
And with that announcement, the school went into its third Standard Response Protocol practice session on consecutive Wednesdays. Only this year, the drills come with a different twist — changes that school officials hope will improve safety for staff and students.
Once the doors were locked, office staff went to the front windows to post the lockdown signs to let people know that they can’t come in while the incident is in progress.
Some teachers had their students practice barricading their classroom door with furniture, desks and anything else they could pile in front of it, to make it tougher for an intruder to get into the room.
Bentea said the school has always had emergency protocol systems in place. The students practice lockout, lockdown, fire drills and earthquake drills every year. But changes in training this year aim to get community and first responders more on the same page.
“What’s different this year is that we’re using the ‘I love You Guys’ verbiage and terminology, so that it’s consistent among all buildings,” Bentea said. “It has lockout, lockdown, shelter in place and evacuate and then we also include some of the ALICE components too.”
The “I Love U Guys” Foundation was started in 2006 by the parents of a girl who lost her life in a school shooting. Its programs have been implemented by more than 25,000 schools, and organizations in the U.S. and Canada.
The new ALICE training (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) teaches a more proactive response to active shooters, including barricading the doors, self defense tactics, and self-evacuation.
“ALICE’s approach is three things ... take off, hide out or take out, so if you can self-evacuate and you think it’s safe, no sense in hiding out,” Bentea said. “If (the threat) is close by and you think hiding out is the best thing, barricade the door and hide out the best you can. And if necessary try to take out the shooter.”
Tracy Grauf, facilities director for the Roseburg School District, was an observer for drills at Fremont. He said the schools have been practicing the protocol for several years, but the ALICE approach adds some different components to their training, emphasizing barricading and having a fight plan, and encouraging the teachers to do what is best for the students at that moment.
“The information we’re getting now is saying lockdown if appropriate, and get out if appropriate,” Grauf said. “We’re trying to tell them to not get locked into one thing and use situational awareness and don’t just go blindly, but go away from the action and get as far away as you can.”
“Safety and security of our students is our No. 1 priority and I hold that more valuable than math and science and English, I think that’s the biggest thing that keeps me up at night, if you can’t be safe you can’t learn,” Bentea said.
Roseburg Schools Superintendent Lee Paterson said the district takes the drills seriously and he wants the community to know what they’re doing to protect the students and teachers in the schools.
“It’s to our great advantage to have our community know that we are prepared and working on improving our evacuation and shelter plans on a daily basis and we will be constantly upgrading those this year and hopefully having some extensive training beginning in the fall,” Paterson said.
The school officials plan to continue the training once each semester to keep the procedure fresh in the minds of students.
Power crews have reduced the number of outages in Douglas County to under 10,000, according to reports from Pacific Power and Douglas Electric Cooperative.
Pacific Power is still working to restore power to some 3,700 customers while Douglas Electric is still working on the needs of 6,200 customers.
David Lucas, the vice president of operations for Pacific Power, said crews had made strides to restore electricity for large groups of people in the Roseburg area.
“Now we’re working on the numerous smaller outages that in some instances can take longer to restore,” he said in a written statement Friday. “Especially in the harder to reach areas that are more labor-intensive to access and repair; this means we will be bringing customers back on in smaller pockets.”
Todd Munsey, a spokesman for Douglas Electric, said some crews have been working 40-hour shifts before taking rest periods in order to restore power.
“As we cycle crews in and out to give them a little rest, others come on board,” he said. “This outage is being worked 24 hours a day.”
Munsey said the co-op flew a helicopter over Elkton and some areas toward to coast to get a better idea of the damage the winter storm caused to the county’s electrical infrastructure.
“It is difficult to comprehend the amount of damage until you get into the heart of our service territory, and trust me, it’s not pretty,” he said. “Our right-of-way is clean and well-maintained, but trees falling on our lines outside the right-of-way have brought structures down in almost 3 feet of snow.
“That is not a quick fix,” he said.
He said crews are still focusing on restoring transmission lines before turning their attention to distribution lines.
“At this time we are not giving any estimates as to when and where that might be,” he said. “We thank everyone for trying to understand.”
Across Douglas County, rescue crews, volunteers and neighbors have been working tirelessly to provide assistance to those in need. Over 140 welfare checks have been performed by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and rescue crews from across the state that have responded to the area.
Even Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin and Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice chipped in, traveling to Elkton on Friday to provide assistance.
For those who need help, or for those who know of any elderly or vulnerable neighbors that might need help with food, water, or heat, the county’s non-emergency Volunteer Service Center hotline remains open. The center can be reached at 541-464-6556 and 541-464-6555.
Approximately 18 welfare checks and 30 phone calls were completed by the group on Thursday, according to the sheriff’s office.
In an emergency, call 911.
Highway 138E, the road that connects Roseburg to Diamond Lake and beyond, is now open, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Officials sent out a release early Friday advising they hoped to open the highway by the end of the day. Just after 4 p.m., officials said the road had reopened, but that motorists should drive with caution and expect lane closures and flaggers providing traffic control.
The road had been closed since Monday after a record-setting winter storm buried the county with snow, which knocked over trees and sent power lines flying across roadways.
Crews from ODOT and the Oregon Department of Forestry worked with a contract crew from Weekly Brothers to clean slides and remove trees that had blocked the road said Dan Latham, an ODOT spokesman.