What Oregon Can Expect in Drought

Many Oregonians know and love our state for its gray skies and rainy days, but this summer, we’re heading for drought. However, drought means more than just “no rain.”  

Drought is defined in a few ways, including as a deficit of water based on historical trends and a deficit of water based on how it is being used. According to Portland State University associate professor of geography Alida Cantor, drought is “when we’re expecting to do more with the water than what we have.”  

Although Oregon has been seeing some precipitation throughout this past year, including several large winter storms, precipitation was overall lower than it has been historically. Additionally, many of the snowpacks in the mountain ranges were already more depleted than usual due to a drought last year.   

As a result of these compounding factors, it is likely that the snowpacks, the melting of which normally provides water and moisture to surrounding soil during the summertime, will not provide sufficient water during the dry months of the summer. In fact, Gov. Kate Brown has already declared drought emergencies in three Southern Oregon counties: Klamath, Lake and Jackson.  

This shift in precipitation, and an increase in evaporation of water from terrestrial environments, is closely tied with global climate change. As Earth’s atmosphere warms, shifting weather fronts alter precipitation patterns, and warmer air is more readily able to pull water from the soil.  

The detriments of drought are numerous, including its impact on agriculture, wildlife, and the severity of wildfires. However there are steps we can take to reduce the likelihood of drought in the future, and to reduce the impacts it has on society even this summer.  

In the long run it is clear that we, as a global community, must change our production and consumption habits to decrease carbon emissions and slow climate change. This is the only way we can hope to prevent the problem of drought for generations to come. But in the short term, drought calls for renewed water management practices.  

Like carbon emissions, the most efficient way to decrease and control the consumption of water will be for large businesses and industries to take steps to reduce water usage. When wasteful water use is mitigated, the water can be directed towards its most useful ends, whether that be farming, wildlife/game restoration, fighting wildfires, or something else entirely.  

On a personal level, there are also choices that can help reduce water waste. Many educational resources talk about issues like shortening showers or turning off faucets, but there are a few endeavors that are far more impactful.  

Watering lawns is an unproductive use of water which can be reduced by instead opting for native plants that can go dry or survive with minimal water, or eliminating yard plants by keeping a gravel or mulch lawn. The native plant option also offers the benefit of providing food to native pollinators.  

A few more impactful ways to reduce water usage are by fixing leaks in the home, opting for water-saving appliances when possible, and avoiding the purchase of foods with heavy water use, like beef.  

By Ardea C. Eichner