The Drought is Just Getting Started


Our California readers may be more used to drought conditions than Oregon natives, but everyone should start preparing for a very dry summer.

According to the Oregon Water Resource Department, as of December 2014, 35 percent of the state, along with the majority of Jackson County, has been declared as being in an extreme drought. This is a rather large increase from 2013 when just over 1 percent of Oregon fell under this classification.

The report continues to say that as of Jun. 1 2014, the Umpqua and Rogue basins are resting at levels far below average. These two major contributors to our regions water supply are holding around 55 percent of their capacity. Long term monitoring sites have been recording record low snowfall, which is expected to worsen the drought.

“The modeling predictions I’ve seen from NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), depicts it (the drought) not looking good for the next few years. We’re not expecting the drought to break or get better,” said Professor of Geology Dr. Charles L. Lane. Having done research of the environment and hydrology at SOU for over two decades, he does not see the drought ending soon. Current weather conditions do not point to a quick recovery, as thus far the state has been beset by an unseasonably dry and very warm winter.

On the local scale, the drought will result in water shortages and but hopefully won’t come to county wide rationing. Dr. Lane continues saying, “Yes the drought means less total water… (but) we probably won’t see county wide water rationing. The folks at the Medford Water Commission say unless it goes longer than 3 to 4 years, then it will become much more of a problem.”

While locals may not have to worry about a shortage of water to drink, they may have to place a hold on any summer trips to the lake. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior Pacific Bureau of Reclamation, Emigrant Lake is currently resting at 65 percent capacity. While this is higher than 2014 levels, the drought is expected to take its toll and drop the percentage when it warms up. When walking along the shoreline the low levels are spotlighted by scummy pools and dried mud pits


Fortunately, there is reason for Ashland locals to stay hopeful as the Ashland City Council has a history of working hard in its water conservation efforts. In the summer of 2009 Ashland experienced a similarly severe drought. They enacted voluntary, soon to become mandatory, water curtailment in order to conserve water. Recently, the city council has prepared for the possibility of enacting water curtailment for the current drought as well.

“Ashland has made some historic efforts with water conservation,” Dr. Lane said adamantly. When asked if voluntary curtailment could be effective this summer he continued “I’m hopeful. There’s an ethic around here, a cultural way of doing things in terms of answering the call when the call for voluntary conservation is made. Ashland seems to get it.”

According to the Medford Water Commission 2013 marked the lowest precipitation levels in recent years. Dr. Lane praised Ashland quick response in dealing with the impending drought. He describes how Ashland was able to hold off extending the Talent Ashland Phoenix water line (TAP) until Aug., well after the drought had hit Ashland. The TAP provides the region with much needed water from Lost Creek Reservoir on the Rouge River. “Ashland made a heroic effort,” Dr. Lane complimented.

Dr. Lane had some surprising comments on how individual households can help cut back on water usage. “Ashland is a mountainside town right? So keeping water on lawns that are on a hefty slope thats an issue.” He was kind enough to sketch a chart depicting annual household water use in Ashland.

Ashland Water Usage










As shown in the graph above,water usage from yard irrigation spikes dramatically in the summer months, particularly compared to everyday household usage such as drinking water, showers etc. “If you focus on all your yard irrigation then thats going to make a huge difference.”

Better get used to a brown lawn then.