A snowpack that is less than 20 percent of the normal amount has farmers and ranchers in southern Oregon worried, but the region’s rafting guides say in spite of the limited snowfall they expect to have plenty of water to float on this summer.
Pete Wallstrom, a guide and owner of Momentum River Expeditions, says he’s getting lots of calls from clients wondering if they should cancel their trips on Oregon’s iconic Rogue River due to drought.
“It’s looking better than it did last year, and last year we had a great year,” he says.
Here’s why: The snowpack in southern Oregon is the smallest on record due to warm temperatures, not a dry winter. Rain has fallen instead of snow. The total winter precipitation in the Rogue and Umpqua basins has been 92 percent of normal, and it's 95 percent of normal in the Klamath Basin.
In the Rogue Basin, at least, much of that winter rain has been captured and stored in the Lost Creek Reservoir.
The Army Corps of Engineers will release that water over the summer to protect the salmon that spawn in the Rogue, and that means at least some summer flow for paddlers too.
“Our family has been in this industry for 41 years. We’ve seen a lot. Everything we see right now has us preparing for a pretty normal season,” says Hugh Hague, a guide with Noah's Wilderness Adventures, based in Ashland.
In the Klamath Basin, farmers are bracing for yet another summer in which some people have their irrigation water cut off, due to the meager snowpack.
But there, too, mandated water releases below Iron Gate Dam to protect spawning salmon mean at least several hours of good whitewater each day throughout he summer.
"There are flows that are going to need to go down the river for fish, and so the rafting and outdoors groups aren't going to see much of a change," says Scott White, Klamath Basin Water Master.