EUGENE, Ore. – Since January 1, 7.51 inches of rain has fallen in Eugene, which is 15.06 inches below normal.
The low levels could lead to possible restrictions on water use this summer. The heavy downpours on Tuesday and Wednesday may be good for the grass, but it hasn’t made much of an impact on our waterways. With a very dry start to the year and a quickly depleting snow pack, there’s bound to be some effect on water totals.
Last year the Willamette Valley was dealing with too much rain, causing major flooding; but this year the concern is not enough of it. River levels are low and keeping experts on alert
“This year the natural stream flows are around 40 to 70 percent thus far, and most of the regulation that I do is to protect in stream flows,” said Watermaster Michael Mattick, Oregon Water Resource Department.
Mattick, the watermaster for Linn and Lane counties, is in charge of regulating and restricting water use
“Normally my regulation period begins in late August, but in a dry year it could start in mid July,” Mattick said.
2013 has been dry, the driest start to a year in western Oregon on record. The lack of rain has shrunken streams and there isn’t much back-up in the reservoirs to revive them.
“This reservoir, Cottage Grove Lake, is just below five feet full, and we’re not sure it will be able to fill up this year,” said park ranger Christie Johnson, Army Corps of Engineers.
The reason, reservoirs in the Willamette Valley rely on heavy spring rains to stay full.
“Snow pack does help sustain water levels at some out our higher reservoirs, but the reservoirs down here in the valley really need rain to fill,” Johnson said.
But even though the nearly 8 inches of rain we’ve received since January 1 seems like a lot, it might not meet the water demand.
“So there’s a lot of different demands on the water, so we do have to balance different needs, recreation, fish, hydropower, irrigation; this water is used for a lot of different things,” Johnson said.
Released water is important for endangered fish such as the Winter Steelhead and Chinook Salmon, but the fish aren’t always the top priority.
“So when we are deciding where we release the water from, we do take in consideration the recreation needs; specifically which lake and where the needs are the most,” Johnson said.
But what will make any decision easier, is more rain.
“If we get a little bit of rain through the summer the stream flows will recover and I might not have to do much regulation,” Mattick said.
We’ll only have to wait until summer to see.
To put it into perspective, it would take 15.06 inches of water for the reservoir levels to hit normal and we’ve only received .71 inches during the past 48 hours.
For more information on water levels and restrictions, click here.