The much-needed moisture that came to the Umpqua Valley this past weekend through Tuesday provided relief, and at least a delay, to what officials in Douglas County feel could be an inevitable water-restriction declaration this summer.
Susan Douthit of the Oregon Water Resources Department, who oversees the state’s southwestern region for water reserves, said this past Friday that water-usage restrictions could be put into place based on readings in the Rogue and Umpqua basins, which were 73% of the area’s 30-year average for the water year. Last year, rainfall was 95% of average at this time of year.
“The recent rains have increased streamflows, at least temporarily, to help meet senior water right needs,” Douthit said. “At this time of the season, having increases in flows, however temporary they may be, pushes out regulation.”
This month, rainfall in Douglas County has been steady and has remained within one-fifth of an inch of the area’s average monthly rainfall through June 15 of 0.88 inches.
Still, the recent rains that have extended from this past Friday until Tuesday have helped tremendously, according to the most recent Oregon Water Resources Department report released Monday. It said moisture for May was more than 150% of average in some parts of Douglas County and more than 30% above average through most of the county.
It created a much-needed influx of water for streamflows in the county and statewide over the past week. Steamboat Creek near Glide was flowing at 145% of normal this past week, with measurements of the mainstem, North and South Umpqua rivers in Elkton, Winchester and Brockway measuring right around average as of Monday, according to measurements from the United States Geological Survey.
That’s in stark contrast to rainfall numbers from the beginning of the water year in October until the end of April, which was as low as 60% of normal through much of the county. That prompted Douglas County commissioners to declare the county in a drought during their May 13 meeting after precipitation in April had plunged to 41% of average.
Still, radar-based groundwater measurements, according to the report, show the wetness percentile of Douglas County and western Oregon at 10% to 20% of average based on measurements taken from 1948 to 2012. The report also notes that temperatures throughout much of Oregon have a 60 to 70% chance of being above normal through the end of August. May provided the first indicator of that — much of Douglas County was 3 degrees above average for the month.
Rainfall is also expected to dissipate in the coming week, with temperatures reaching into the high 80s by Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
Douthit said anyone in need of modifications, or would like to discuss obtaining a new water right, should contact the watermaster’s office to discuss options for their water supply at 541-440-4255.