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.