High Desert snowpack worst in nearly a decade

Despite recent storms, some summer squeeze seen for water users

Snowpack below average again

BEND, Ore. - Central Oregon's April 1st snowstorm fell on the day snow accumulation usually peaks for the season on the High Desert.

"As of about eight weeks ago, we were in dire straights -- we were at very low snowpack," Deschutes Basin Wastermaster Jeremy Giffin said Thursday.

Recent wet and snowy weather has helped, but the snowpack for the Deschutes and Crooked River basins is still more than one-third below average.

"It's probably too little too late -- we still will be in drought conditions for the upcoming irrigation season," Giffin said.

Crook County has known this for a while. In fact, the governor agreed to declare a state of emergency because of the drought conditions there.

"Folks can rely on drilling wells and access to ground water where they won't have that access to surface water," said Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Julie Koeberle.

To make matters worse, this snowpack deficit follows last year, when we were 20 percent below average.

Wickiup, Prineville and Crane Prairie reservoirs are filled to capacity. Crescent Lake and Ochoco Reservoir are still filling up.

"If you're a water user above those reservoirs, like say on the Upper Crooked River or Ochoco Creek, or even on the Little Deschutes (River), you could find yourself with water shortages," Giffin said.

They also will have to draft down these reservoirs lower than usual because of the need for stored water.

So what happens if we have another below-average snowpack next year?

"It wouldn't be the end of the world if we have another low snow year -- if we can get some of that late spring moisture bailout," Koeberle said.

Whether Mother Nature will bail us out, we'll have to wait and see.

Snowpack helps recharge streams and rivers, as well as refill reservoirs. Giffin said we haven't seen a snowpack this low since 2005.

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