In late December, when Ochoco Irrigation District personnel went to measure the local snowpack, they found it was pretty similar to last year.
Of course, at that point in time, the area had only experienced one major snowstorm, and two more would hit in early January that would assuredly result in a lot more snow in the mountains than the previous year. At least it would be easy to assume such a result, but as it turns out, the snowpack is still comparable to last year at this time.
"People might be surprised a little bit because we have all of this snow on the valley floor," said Russ Rhoden, Ochoco Irrigation District manager.
Last week, OID staff members conducted studies at the Ochoco Meadows SNOTEL site and snow course near Walton Lake as well as SNOTEL sites and snow courses at Marks Creek and Derr Meadows near Mitchell. The snow pack at the Marks Creek site increased the most from February 2016 (16 inches) to February 2017 (23.5 inches). The average water content also increased from 5.4 inches in 2016 to 6.6 inches in 2017.
Ochoco Meadows saw a slight increase from 2016 to 2017. OID recorded a snow depth of 40 inches in 2016 and 43 inches in 2017. The water content likewise went up slightly from 13 inches in 2016 to 13.5 inches in 2017.
But at Derr Meadows, the snow depth was 6 inches less this year versus last. In February 2016, OID measured 54 inches of snow depth, but in 2017 it was only 46 inches. The water content followed suit, registering 16.5 inches in 2016 compared to 14.5 inches this year.
Although the significant snowfall in town has not translated to a huge increase in mountain snow pack, Rhoden stressed that the numbers look good for the upcoming irrigation season.
"It is still good," he said, pointing out that the snow pack for each of the past two years has exceeded the 30-year average for the area. "All of this low elevation snow is obviously going to help conditions."
Like the snow pack numbers, local reservoir levels are comparable to last year as well. Prineville Reservoir is currently has 67,372 acre-feet of water compared to 75,981 at this time last year. Ochoco Reservoir, by contrast, has more water this year (21,435 acre-feet) than one year ago (19,045).
Perhaps the biggest difference between this winter and last is the temperatures and their impact on the mountain snow.
"This time last year, our rivers were starting to actually pick up. Our runoff was starting to come out earlier," Rhoden said. "I think that has been the case for the last several years."
This year, the lower temperatures overall have resulted in a slower melt, which bodes well for water availability through the growing season.
"What we hope for is the snow pack coming out slow," Rhoden said. "We don't need any rapid snow melt."