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Klamath Basin residents have been painfully aware of the ongoing drought conditions throughout California and other Western states. There has not been enough rain for years and the ecosystems that make up the Klamath River Basin have endured long, disastrous fire seasons, dried-out forests and low water flows in creeks and rivers. The last several weeks have been marked by long, drawn out rain and snowstorms that have given Basin residents a glimmer of hope for the coming year in terms of replenished ground water and swollen rivers. How much have we caught up in terms of the drought? Can we finally let out a sigh of collective relief or are we not yet out of the red in terms of water use and access? Is the Klamath Basin still experiencing a “water crisis?”
The west coast has been hit with a lot of rain and snow over the last weeks. Current snowpack in the Shasta-Trinity Range is at 160% of average with snowpack in the Sierras hitting as high as 166% in some areas. December was a remarkably wet month for much of the state and produced both rain and snowstorms that gave residents a glimmer of hope following the drought conditions that Klamath River Basin and neighboring communities have been enduring for several years. For comparison, last December the water levels indicated in snowpack throughout the state were around 52%.
The 2021 water year, beginning in October of 2020 and ending September 30th of 2021, was one of the driest in recent history. While the 2022 water year is off to a good start, much of the state is still technically experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions with parts of the Klamath River Basin, especially those bordering Oregon considered exceptional – the worst designation possible. Past water years, an example being 2013’s, began with heavy rain and snowfall followed by an extremely dry January and February that essentially erased any surplus water supply that thirsty aquifers and rivers desperately needed.
Current conditions throughout the state are incrementally better – we have edged back from a summer wherein 45% of the entire state was designated as being in exceptional drought conditions. But Klamath River Basin residents and their neighbors still need to conserve water whenever possible and act as drought conditions demand. The upcoming fire season may be another dramatic and destructive series of months and those concerned with supporting the landscapes they value and live amongst need to buckle down and prepare for another potentially dry year. We will continue to cross our fingers for more rain and snow in the hopes that wildfires have fewer parched environments to burn through and that seasonal fish runs have enough cold, fast-running water to swim through on their return to spawning grounds throughout the basin’s watershed. The storms have delivered valuable precipitation but water conservation and preparation for dry years ahead are important steps for responsible Klamath Basin residents invested in long terms solutions to the Klamath Basin water crisis.