Study Looks Closer At Vulnerability Of Watersheds In West

Sep 9, 2015

It is common knowledge that the drought this year was pretty bad. But just how intense was it, and what can we learn about it for future water supply shortages? These are some of the questions scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey across the West are asking. They are studying streams and rivers in six states, including Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Geologists are trying to better understand extremely low streamflow like this at Lighting Creek in northern Idaho.
Credit USGS Idaho

Dave Evetts is leading the study in Idaho, and says he wants to know how the water supply has changed over time by measuring things like streamflow and water temperature. These kinds of questions could impact decisions about managing the supply in the long-term.

Evetts says after a year of precipitation that fell mostly as rain instead of snow, extremely low snowpack plagued the region.

"When rain hits, it runs off immediately and is gone down the stream channel," he says.  "Whereas the snow, it provides more of a storage to be used and melts off slowly."

He says some areas are worse off than others, and points to record low streamflow measurements in northern Idaho, and an even worse water picture in Oregon.

"Everybody in the northwest is really under a fairly severe drought."

But he says it's too soon to say whether the data will point to a cyclical short-term change, or whether the drought is part of long-term climate change impacts. The analysis for the study is set to wrap up in 2016.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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