Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

Despite near normal snowpack levels in the region, streamflow forecasts don’t look that promising for the summer.

A June 1 report from the U.S. National Resources Conservation Service predicts river flows of 50 to 73 percent of normal through September in Northeastern Oregon. Those low forecasts are partly due to earlier than normal melting of the snowpack.

Yet even with streams carrying less water than usual, Baker City’s water system is in much better shape than it was a year ago.

The city gets its water from streams and springs in a 10,000-acre forested watershed in the Elkhorn Mountains about 10 miles west of town.

“The mountain is supplying close to double what it was last year,” said Michelle Owen, the city’s public works director.

Normal flows from the watershed are about 5 to 6 million gallons per day this time of year.

Last year, by contrast, the watershed was producing about 4 million gallons per day at the beginning of July, a volume more typical of late August.

On June 15 this year, the day the city conducted a state-mandated chlorine tracer study, which requires more water than what the city typically uses, the watershed supplied 9 million gallons of water, Owen said.

Last year at the start of July, the city asked residents to water their lawns only every other day.

The city also cut back on irrigation at Quail Ridge Golf Course, Mount Hope Cemetery, city parks and Baker School District properties.

With the watershed producing much more water this summer, Owen doesn’t expect the city will make a similar request of residents any time soon.

Owen anticipated that there will not be any water curtailment requests in the near future.

But she pointed out that conserving water is always prudent.

Owen said the city will reduce water usage at the facilities listed above before asking residents to curtail their watering.

Last year’s water curtailment request was intended to conserve the city’s two sources of stored water — Goodrich Reservoir and the aquifer storage and recovery well.

Both are at full capacity this year. While Goodrich did reach its full capacity of 210 million gallons last year, the city was able to pump just 170 million gallons of water from the watershed into the well — 30 million gallons less than the well’s capacity.

See more in the July 1, 2016, issue of the Baker City Herald.