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Moisture a welcome boost to the beginning of the irrigation system as drought continues

PMG PHOTO: KIVA HANSON - Freezing temperatures in April and May make for icing mornings at the start of the irrigation season.

Make no mistake: the drought is not over for Central Oregon; but the cold, wet April and early May brings good news for the short-term water situation in Jefferson County.

"At the end of March we were on a fast track to have the snowpack melt out way ahead of schedule," says Kyle Gorman, South Central Region Manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department. "The recent snow has kept the snowpack steady in terms of water content and it's prevented it from melting out early."

Gorman says the continued cold weather and precipitation pushed the snowpack well above average for this time of year.

People who keep track of the water level at Wickiup Reservoir, the primary source of irrigation water for Jefferson County, like to compare the reservoir level today to the same date last year. Gorman says for the first time in 18 months, the Wickiup Reservoir has not set a record low level for the month end contents for April and has 3,000 acre feet more water than it did the same time last year. North Unit Irrigation District draws less water from Wickiup this year because it's delivering a smaller allotment to its patrons, which explains part of the increase this year compared to last.

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - The cold temperatures and the late snows are keeping the snow on the mountains. Kyle Gorman with the Oregon Water Resources Department says that snowpack will melt later in the season when farmers need it more.

The Mother's Day layer of snow on the Cascades Mountains means we have snow that will melt later when growers actually need it.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service chart for Snow Water Equivalent in the Upper Deschutes Crooked River Basin draws the picture.

The dark green line indicates the median peak of snow water content. The black line shows what happened in 2022. The wet spring puts the basin well ahead of average for snow water content.

While this brings good short-term news, the region still suffers from a serious water deficit.

Gorman says we're still only at 63% of the median peak snowpack. We never made it to the hoped for 100%.

"It's not like our water year is going to have an abundance of water," he said. "We never reached average."

According to the May 1 NRCS streamflow forecast publication, the 31 months prior to our wet April were the driest two-and-a-half year period since scientists started taking records in 1979.

When the NRCS released its stream flow forecast recently, a number of stations posted all-time record lows.

The water year for 2022 will still likely be even worse than last year, but perhaps not as bad as conditions first predicted.

On April 18, Gorman said the additional snowpack could extend the Jefferson County irrigation season by a week or two.

On May 9, with the continued cold, rain and snow, he thinks the season could possibly extend for an additional two weeks.


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