On July 28, Governor Kate Brown declared two-thirds of Oregon to be in a state of emergency. The crisis was the result of a drought with the worst dry conditions seen in 20 years.
According to Kathie Dello, the Deputy Director of the Oregon Climate Office, Oregon has been on the precipice of drought for some time, the main cause being climate change on a global scale. Because of global warming, the consequence of overpopulation and increasing greenhouse gases, Oregon didn’t get as much snow as usual over this past winter.
The lack of snowfall led to less snow buildup in the mountains. Normally, this snow melts into our streams and rivers during warmer months, but instead of a large, evenly distributed snow pack, this year’s supply was very small and melted two months earlier than usual. On the peak of Mt. Hood in particular, scientists measured only 28% of expected snowfall.
“Less snow at a higher elevation leads to less water recharge,” Dello explained. This lack of water recharge was the first alert to environmental officials that our water supply would present a problem.
Now, fish are dying in the state’s biggest rivers as the water grows warmer and stream flow fades. Farmers who depend on 85% of the water diverted from streams and rivers to water crops have found they will have far less water to sustain their operations. And in the Willamette Basin, infrastructures created to catch water from the melting snow packs to add to municipal supplies were found half empty. “It was a real wake-up call, looking at the water in reservoirs this year, because the levels were so low,” said Dello.
Though our drought is the result of global climate change, Oregonians can still mitigate water loss on a local scale, as long as we are willing to cooperate with government agencies working to execute water-saving strategies.
Brown’s call to action granted the state water department authority to begin regulating use of water by Oregon citizens and giving federal assistance to farmers. Since the beginning of August, 11 cities across the state have imposed some form of water conservation. While some counties educate residents with brochures, others have imposed fines for using hoses without permission.
The lifestyle changes we can make to save water are simple, said Dello. Her first recommendation is to quit watering our lawns in the summer. “Even if you let your lawn go brown, it will go back to green in the fall,” she explained. Reusing water from dishwashing and bathing to water plants and wash cars is another great way to cut down on water use. And homeowners should check their water bills to ensure they have no leaks in their pipes or sprinkler systems.
Sufficient evidence has proven wrong those who believe that Oregon is too wet for a drought. In reality, most of Oregon is quite dry, and the majority of the East has been hit even harder by the drought than the Northwest.