BEND, OR -- Central Oregon is now in its fourth year of drought. Governor Tina Kotek declared drought emergencies for Deschutes and Grant counties Friday; Crook and Jefferson counties received their declarations in mid-February. State Climatologist Larry O’Neill sits on the committee that recommended the declaration, "The soil conditions are actually the most worrying right now. What that means is there will be a lot of ground left fallow, but of the people who do plant, they’ll be planting crops that don’t use as much water. Because of the dry soils, we actually expect an increased demand in irrigation water when we have very little supply of it."
Oregon's snowpack is strong, with every basin currently more than 120% of normal for this time of year. But, the High Desert needs rain. "Right now, about 50% of the state is below 75% of its average for this water year, which began at the beginning of last October. That’s despite the really good snowpack, and that also includes the snowpack too. It’s just been persistently cold all winter, which has helped preserve that snowpack," says O'Neill, "That snowpack really influences more the water supply, rather than the general landscape conditions. So, there are a lot of fields, some dry land agriculture and things like that - if those fields aren’t under snow, which a lot of them aren’t, they’re actually in quite a bit of trouble right now because not enough rain fell on them." He tells KBND News, "Crook, Jefferson and parts of Wasco County, and then going down into the Klamath, since October 2019, this region has missed out on at least a full year’s worth of precipitation." O'Neill says, "We’re not expecting any sort of significant recovery in this region. Unless, you know, there’s 10 inches of rain or something, and then we might see some movement."
Other drought-stricken areas are recovering, thanks to recent atmospheric rivers that just missed Central Oregon, "Just to the southeast, in Harney, Lake and Malheur counties, there have been some good improvement. These regions haven’t fully recovered from the drought, but they’re seeing some really good partial recovery," says O'Neill.
He believes climate change has prolonged the drought and he expects to see longer dry cycles in the future.
Image: Oregon's snowpack as of 3/27/23, according to the NRCS