In the last two years, drought-fueled wildfires in the western USA have burnt over an area the size of Delaware plus another 3/4 of a million acres. Hidden in all this are the effects of fire on our beloved fisheries.
In the northwest USA, last summer saw Oregon fires cross the Metolius River in Oregon, raze entire mountainsides along miles of the Rogue River, burn a hillside along the Deschutes River, and affect the major spawning creek for brown trout at Sheep Bridge, Wickiup Reservoir. In Idaho, fires crossed the S. Fork of the Boise River, and affected the Wood River watershed near Sun Valley. These are just fires that come to mind, there were many others.
This coming season is looking grim. Likely the season will come early and the prime conditions will be here and gone before you know it. Lakes and reservoirs will start looking like the photo above. Eastern Oregon is getting little or no snow this winter, and streams will be reduced to a trickle, with many impoundments going dry. Last year, Oregon cities like Grants Pass, Medford and Ashland spent months choking on smoke from forest fires.
Locally, in the past, I have seen Crane Prairie Reservoir and Davis Lake at 300 surface acres each (a loss of over 90% of their capacity), and that’s not a pretty sight. For Crane Prairie, which has been returning to its trophy trout glory, that would be tragic.
Drought devastated fisheries take years to recover, and greatly tax the budgets of Fish and Wildlife departments, which have depleted budgets already.
Here are some grim news stories. These were collected by wife Linda, who grew up in rural Idaho and is all too familiar with drought horror stories, dry wells, and diminished water supplies.
California officials call drought outlook “scary”.
The California Sierra mountain wilderness wildfire, is in an area that’s usually buried in snow in January. The California Redwoods in Humboldt County, normally one of the wettest places in the US, had a wildfire this month.
The Colorado River, a huge part in making what should be desert country, into mega cities, has been in trouble for decades. This dependable source of essential water is coming to an end, and will not longer support the every day water demands pressed upon it.
Nevada has nine counties, nearly the whole state, under declared serious drought conditions.
10 states under drought disaster status.
As of Feb. 1st, moisture content of the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada was only 12% of normal.
Fishing and camping in much of California is outlawed. (from the NY Times article Severe Drought Has U.S. West Fearing Worst)
Possbility of Megadrought and Its Impacts (from the San Jose Mercury News)
BIG SNOW AND RAIN BREAKTHROUGH started Feb. 5th. We have a good snowstorm going in central Oregon with a possibility of 6″ in Bend and a good deal more in the mountains during the next 4-5 days.
Significant rain falling in California from a Pineapple Express coming in from Hawaii.
Feb. 9th: Oregon received full benefits from the 3-day Pineapple Express storm, though big ice storms west of the Cascades took out a lot of trees. Locally, we got 26″ of snow in our yard. Mt. Bachelor Ski area got almost six feet of snow, and area snowpacks are now normal, so a good coming fishing season is more likely. California isn’t out of its drought yet, they need a lot more rainfall to get out of trouble.
Update Feb. 22nd: The last big storm pushed central Oregon’s snwpack to normal for this time of year, which pretty much insures a good fishing season here, at least for the first 2/3rds. Eastern Oregon is still firmly entrenched in a drought.
California is another story, however. Despite heavy rains, it will take five more storms of equal intensity to break the drought. A graphic in one of the articles notes that if the amount of water needed in California to break the drought is the equivalent of a 5-gal. bucket, the last storm contributed a 10-ounce cup of coffee worth.
Notes from California:
Notes from Oregon:
Update: April 1st
Central Oregon is in good shape for the start of the fishing season. Almost all reservoirs will fill to capacity. The exception is Crook County, just to the east of Bend, where a drought declaration has been issued.
Just released: Deschutes basin snowpack is only 60% of normal. April snows will determine the fate of the water year. http://tinyurl.com/ldh6jgx
For California from Dr. Jeff Masters, WeatherUnderground.com: March 25, 2014 Drought Monitor is showing that 99.8% of California is in drought, with 95% of the state in Severe, Extreme, or Exceptional drought, a 2% rise from the previous week.
Update: April 24th
Entire state of California is now in drought
The scope and impacts of this drought are overwhelming and resist mitigation, but you have to start somewhere. For starters, you can ramp down your own water use and put conservation measures into place for your yard and property. And encourage your neighbors to do the same.
Officials in California are talking about letting 300,000 to 500,000 acres of cropland go fallow, because there isn’t enough water available to support all agriculture. The water shortage will do lovely things to food prices. Anything that uses water will become more expensive. And water itself will cost more when there’s less of it.
That hardly skims the surface of what will be depths of economic damage. The 2012 US drought alone caused a $30 billion loss in crops, cattle and commerce.
We need moisture in the western USA in the worst way.