Northeastern Oregon Snowpack Surges Toward Record Levels In Places

Drought Busted?

By Jayson Jacoby, The Baker City Herald

Wes Morgan is in the water business in a place where the climate is much closer to desert than to rain forest.

This makes Morgan, who manages the Burnt River Irrigation District in southern Baker County, a skeptic.

Show him a March snowstorm and he’ll talk about an April heat wave that could erase the snowpack in a few dismal days.

Yet the current winter makes a formidable obstacle even for Morgan’s instinctive cynicism.

The numbers are too compelling to dismiss.

“Optimism is starting to overtake pessimism a little bit,” Morgan said.

The mountain snowpack, the depth of which determines whether irrigation reservoirs will fill this summer, is for now the most bountiful since 2008.

And at a few measuring sites the water content in the snowpack is nearing record-high levels.

For the first time in more than three years, no part of Northeastern Oregon is in a drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor Index.

(One area, covering parts of northern Baker and southern Union counties, is rated “abnormally dry” a precursor to the four-level drought scale.)

Here, at least, Morgan’s suspicions override his enthusiasm.

“At least we’ve got a start, but things could turn south again in a hurry,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’re out of the drought by any means.”

On the positive side of the ledger, the water content in the snowpack is 35 percent above average based on measurements at 19 sites around the region.

And the situation is even more promising at several bellwether sites, such as Anthony Lakes, where the water content of 32.1 inches, as measured Thursday, is 62 percent above average.

That’s the highest water content there in early March since 1972, when the water content was 34.5 inches.

At a site near Bourne the water content is 19.1 inches, the most since March 2008.

Bourne is the key measuring spot in projecting water flows into Phillips Reservoir, an important source of irrigation water for Baker Valley farms. The reservoir hasn’t filled in the past three years.

See more in the March 6, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.

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