A lot of rain and some snow has fallen in Douglas County during the last couple weeks. But the county is still in a drought.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Drought Monitor downgraded the severity of the Douglas County drought for the first time since Christmas Day. The drought dates back to late spring 2018 when Gov. Kate Brown made an emergency declaration.
Twenty percent of the county has been in an “extreme” drought since Dec. 25, according to the drought monitor, but the proportion of the county in “severe” drought dropped from 80 percent to 37 percent this week. Forty-three percent of the county is currently in the “moderate” drought classification.
Susan Douthit, watermaster for Douglas County, says the recent drought improvements are minimal. Temperature and precipitation outlooks for the spring show that Douglas County may be in for another drought-ridden summer, she said.
That doesn’t bode well for several county industries that depend on water availability such as agriculture, livestock and tourism, she said. If the forecasts materialize, water rights regulations may be enacted, according to Douthit.
“I’d be doing a lot better if it kept raining,” Douthit said. “Streamflows have increased slightly. Nothing to get excited about, in my opinion, yet.”
Snow pack is one of the main forecasters of summer drought. Snow pack in the Umpqua and Rogue basins were 60 percent of normal as of Feb. 1, according to a recent report from the Natural Resources and Conservation Service. It was 67 percent of normal in January.
Snow water equivalent — a measure of how much water is contained within snow — was 74 percent of normal as of Feb. 11 for the Umpqua and Rogue basins, according to data from the National Climate and Water Center. The norm is based on median levels from 1981 and 2010.
Additionally, the area of Douglas County that is in “extreme” drought is concentrated in the mountains where snow pack primarily exists.
Although precipitation in local basins was nearly 100 percent of normal for January, precipitation is currently about 80 percent of normal for the year. Precipitation for December was below 80 percent of normal.
The data that caught Douthit’s attention the most was the three-month temperature and precipitation outlooks for the state.
“The reason that I’ve been paying attention to that one is that one shows what are our water conditions are going to be in April and May,” Douthit said. “Because that’s really where the rubber hits the road.”
She said the forecasts show above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation.
“That’s a bad combo,” Douthit said.
The probability of above-average temperatures in the next three months is between 50 and 70 percent for Douglas County, according to the National Weather Service forecast. The probability of below-average precipitation is between 40 and 50 percent.
Douthit said if those forecasts materialize, regulators by be forced to impose water use restrictions to stave off water shortages.
According to the recent report for the Umpqua and Rogue basins, “As of February 1, storage at major reservoirs in the basin ranges from 17% of average at Hyatt Prairie Reservoir to 155% of average at Applegate Reservoir.”
The persistent drought conditions may financially impact key Douglas County industries, Douthit said.
“Tourism, fish, livestock. Yeah, it’s big money,” she said.