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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Too much of a good thing?

The 1930s movie star Mae West had a favorite saying: ďToo much of a good thing is ó wonderful!Ē

Unfortunately, the same canít be said across the Northwest for the precipitation thatís been inundating the region. Though many parts of Idaho and eastern Oregon and Washington need every drop of rain and flake of snow they can get to refill reservoirs, recharge aquifers and rebuild snowpacks, portions of western Oregon and Washington are on the verge of throwing in the towel.

In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, for example, 6.68 inches of rain has fallen since Jan. 1. Thatís more than double the average month-to-date rainfall of 2.85 inches. Since Oct. 1, 27.29 inches of rain has fallen. Thatís more than double last yearís rainfall of 10.18 inches and well above the average rainfall of 18.73 inches for that period.

Similar stories are being played out elsewhere in western Oregon and Washington. Seattle recorded 28 straight days of rainfall ó the Jan. 16 break in the weather lasted exactly one day before the rain started again.

The result has been flooded pastures and croplands as streams and rivers pushed beyond their banks and standing water accumulated on saturated soil. Damage has thus far been mainly confined to some roads and highways in low-lying areas, though others could encounter trouble if more rain is added to the already saturated ground. Perennial crops and others that are inundated could be damaged if the water doesnít drain or evaporate.

The rain has led Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington to declare a state of emergency in 12 counties and Gov. Ted Kulongoski to do the same in 24 Oregon counties. Damage estimates range into the tens of millions of dollars. For example, in Clatsop County, Ore., a 200-foot section of a flood-control levee washed out over New Yearís weekend, and dozens of southwestern Oregon roads have been damaged or blocked by mudslides.

While western Oregon and Washington are looking forward to a respite from the rain, the eastern part of those states and their neighbors in Idaho are rooting for more ó in the form of both rain and mountain snows.

And, for the most part, theyíre getting it. In the John Day River Basin, the snow water equivalent is 147 percent of the average. In the Klamath Basin itís 138 percent of the average. In the Walla Walla Basin itís 91 percent of the average.

In Eastern Washington, the percentages ranged from 92 to 128 percent of average. In Idaho, where the snow water equivalent measurements range from 95 percent of average in the Panhandle to 155 percent of average to the south, farmers and ranchers are welcoming the downpour.

All of which bodes well for the regionís farmers and ranchers, many of whom suffered through drought conditions last year.

Though Mother Nature is being generous with precipitation this year, many farmers, ranchers and irrigation managers realize that the vast majority of this winterís water bounty will not be stored for future, drier years. In fact, most will run off and make its way to the Pacific Ocean. This sad fact points out the need for more water storage, not only in the Pacific Northwest but across the West. Dams, reservoirs and other means of storing water need to be developed and built if the regionís agriculture and population are to continue to grow and prosper.

It is ironic that, as more and more demands are placed on the regionís water resources, there is less and less construction of the infrastructure required to meet those needs.

Some critics maintain that the region needs fewer, not more, reservoirs and dams. They maintain that endangered fish and water projects cannot co-exist.

Instead of that narrow view, they should support more and better means of developing water resources in a way that benefits both people and fish.

We all know that many long, dry summers lie ahead, no matter how much rain and snow fall this winter. Without adequate water storage, those summers will be only drier.

To paraphrase Mae West, once we have adequate water storage across the West, then too much of a good thing really will be wonderful.

States of Emergency

A state of emergency has been declared in the following counties as a result of the heavy rain:


Pacific, Grays Harbor, Clallam, Jefferson, Mason, Kitsap, King, Pierce, Skagit, Thurston, Lewis and Spokane.


Benton, Coos, Clatsop, Columbia, Crook, Curry, Deschutes, Douglas, Gilliam, Jackson, Jefferson, Josephine, Lake, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Sherman, Tillamook, Wasco, Washington, Wheeler and Yamhill.



Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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