- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

BAKER CITY, Ore. (AP) - To understand how historically low the snowpack is this spring in the Elkhorn Mountains you have to cast a long look back.

To a time when there was only one World War.

To 1936, to be precise.

That’s the first year snow surveyors trudged to a meadow several hundred yards east of Anthony Lake.

That year they measured the snowpack only once, on March 23.

The next two years, 1937 and 1938, surveyors also made a single trip to the site, on April 6 and March 28, respectively.

In 1940 they added three other monthly measurements - around the first of January, February and March.

And then in 1954 the surveyors added a May 1 visit, creating the same five-month schedule that continues today.

Over the past six decades the snowpack in that meadow, elevation 7,125 feet, peaks most years around the first of May.

Not this year.

The snowpack, as measured by its water content, reached its maximum this year, at 18.5 inches, around the first of March.

In the two months since, an abundance of warm days, especially in March, and scarcity of rainfall - 30 percent below average for the March-April period - has eroded the already scanty snowpack to a near-record level.

The water content measured at the Anthony Lake meadow May 1 was 11 inches.

In only one year was the water content lower on that day.

That was 1977 - one of the most severe drought years of the 20th century in Oregon - and the water content on May 1 that year was 9.4 inches.

The average for May 1 is 29.6 inches.

And although surveyors didn’t start the May 1 measurement until 1954, based on the records for April 1 it’s likely that in none of the years between 1936 and 1953 was the water content on May 1 as low as it was this year.

The most meager water content for April 1 during that period was 19 inches.

This snow shortage has had a predictable effect on some of the major streams that drain from the Elkhorns, said Rick Lusk, Baker County watermaster.

Lusk said Tuesday afternoon that flows in Rock Creek and the North Powder River, for instance, were in the range of 50 to 60 cubic feet per second (cfs).

“They ought to be two to three times that much,” Lusk said.

He recently drove through the Burnt River Canyon between Bridgeport and Durkee and he said several tributaries that usually have water at this time were dry.

Lusk said he and the county’s two deputy watermasters typically don’t need to start allocating water based on farmers’ and ranchers’ water rights priority dates until early May because until then everyone can get all the water they need.

This year the watermasters started that task before April 1.


The original story can be found on the Baker City herald’s website: https://bit.ly/1ALEAGW


Information from: Baker City Herald, https://www.bakercityherald.com/

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