Central Oregon snowpack receives big boost
Despite robust February snowfall drought concerns remain

A snowy February boosted the snowpack in the Deschutes/Crooked River Basin, but more is needed to bring the amount of snow in the mountains to normal.

“It basically just improved the snowpack to mediocre at best,” said Julie Koeberle, snow hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Portland.

At the end of January, the basin’s snowpack was at 32 percent of normal, according to the agency. At the close of February it was at 57 percent. Automated snow measuring sites around Bend recorded more than double the typical amount of precipitation for February, Koeberle said.

“A lot of that did fall as snow,” she said.

The snow and rain have improved what was looking to be a dire situation for reservoirs in the Crooked River system, while triggering increased releases from some reservoirs in the Deschutes River system to make sure they don’t overflow, said Jeremy Giffin, Deschutes Basin watermaster for the Oregon Water Resources Department.

“It has helped tremendously for Ochoco and Prineville reservoirs,” he said.

As of Friday, Ochoco Reservoir was 37 percent full, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. The reservoir can hold 44,247 acre-feet of water and was at 16,190 acre-feet. An acre-foot is enough water to submerge an acre of land a foot deep in water. Prineville Reservoir was at 68 percent full Friday, with 100,482 acre-feet. The reservoir can hold 148,640 acre-feet. In late January, Ochoco Reservoir was 23 percent full and Prineville Reservoir was at 54 percent.

While the reservoir supply situation for the Crooked River system is better now, Giffin said there probably still will be some growers there going without irrigation this growing season.

“I expect to be doing a considerable amount of regulation in Crook County this year,” he said.

On the Deschutes River system, groundwater helps fill the reservoirs, so they are less dependent on rainfall and snowpack. They’re in better shape despite a dry November, December and January. Giffin said he expects Wickiup and Crane Prairie reservoirs to fill before April 1, when growing season typically starts in Central Oregon. He’s been increasing releases from the reservoirs recently to avoid them filling too soon.

Crescent Lake likely won’t fill, but it still should have a good supply of water. Giffin didn’t foresee any water restrictions for growers drawing irrigation water from the Deschutes.

As of Friday, Wickiup Reservoir was 94 percent full, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. The reservoir can hold 200,000 acre-feet of water and is at 187,413 acre-feet. Crane Prairie was at 86 percent Friday, with 47,393 acre-feet. It can hold 55,300 acre-feet. Crescent Lake was 77 percent full. The lake can hold 86,900 acre-feet and was at 67,296 acre-feet.

Despite the improved water outlook brought by the February snow and rain, Central Oregon remains in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Released Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center, the weekly monitor shows the northern portions of Deschutes and Crook counties in moderate drought and the southern portions in severe drought. Crook County declared a drought emergency Feb. 19 and is asking Gov. John Kitzhaber for a state declaration. The state Drought Council is set to meet early this month to consider the request. The governor has declared drought emergencies in Malheur, Harney, Lake and Klamath counties so far this year.

“We are still drier than we should be, looking at the past few months,” said Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University in Corvallis. “But February (was) great to us.”

March is expected to start snowy and wet in Central Oregon. A small amount of snow fell in some areas this weekend, and more precipitation is forecast for the coming week in Bend, Redmond, Prineville and other parts of the region.

“It looks like just rain beyond this weekend,” said Ann Adams, an assistant forecaster for the National Weather Service in Pendleton.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

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