By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Scientists are manually measuring snowpack in the upper Deschutes basin this month to predict summer stream flows.
What they are finding is a near-normal snowpack, but it’s not enough to fill reservoirs when it melts later this spring.
That means reduced irrigation supplies for farmers, difficulties for fish and reduced whitewater rafting opportunities this summer.
If you thought the month of February had a lot of snow; you’d be right.
At the beginning of the month, the snowpack in the upper Deschutes basin was about 81 percent of normal.
As the end of February, it was up to 107% of normal.
Natural Resource Conservation Service scientists measure snow at the Dutchman Flat survey site the old-fashioned way.
They plunge a steel tube—called a federal snow sampler—into the snow to measure the depth, density, and water content of the snow.
They do this ten times over a quarter mile to ensure consistency and accuracy.
“It’s a permanently established, manually measured area where we collect snow depth, the density, and the snow water equivalent,” said Anthony Collara, NRCS soil scientist. “How many inches of water is in a column of snow? We can correlate all that data across our basin and then we can forecast how much streamflow we are going to get the following year.”
Most snow surveys are automated with weather stations reporting snow depth and density via satellite.
But three times each winter, scientists manually survey sites like this to ensure the automated data is accurate.
This is the second of this year’s three manual snow surveys, making this the “mid-term exam” of this winter’s snowpack.
“We are trying to work through some ice layers. It can be tough this time of year when we have a nice deep snowpack. You need to plunge that core through those thick ice layers. Got to put your weight into it and do your best,” said Andy Neary, NRCS soil scientist.
It took three tries to push the snow sampler tube all the way to the ground at station nine on the Dutchman survey site.
The scientists repeated this time-consuming and physically demanding work at two other survey sites near the Wanoga and Meissner Sno Parks before calling it a day.
“We are just grateful to be able to get out of the office, do some physical work in a beautiful setting and contribute to a long-term data set. Every ounce of effort is worth it,” Neary said.
The March 1 snow survey at Dutchman Flat showed an average of 120 inches of snow.
There was 40 inches of water in the Dutchman Flat snowpack.
That’s about 102% of average for this time of year in this location.
Unfortunately, this normal snowpack is not enough to break a long-term drought in the Deschutes basin, due to multiple years of below-average snowpack.
The ongoing water deficit means Ochoco, Prineville and Wickiup reservoirs likely won’t fill this spring.
The North Unit Irrigation District in Jefferson County is already planning on reduced water deliveries to farmers.
Many farmers are planning to leave a percentage of their fields fallow, which translates to less activity in the agriculture portion of Jefferson County’s economy.