Title screen from the Oregon Sea Grant video "Documenting the Drought: Mitigating the effects in Oregon"


By Tiffany Woods

Four new videos produced by Oregon Sea Grant (OSG) show how certain business practices, farming techniques and riparian management strategies are better poised to tolerate droughts in Oregon.

The short videos form a series called Documenting the Drought: Mitigating the effects in Oregon. OSG created them in response to the state's 2015 drought, said John Stevenson, a climate specialist with OSG Extension at Oregon State University (OSU).

"We found that the people and places that did better during the drought were the ones where investments had been made in water conservation and restoration efforts over the past decade," he said.

In one video, OSU's Kathie Dello, the deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service, explains the conditions that led up to the 2015 drought: "If we go back to 2013," she said, "we had a winter with very low snowpack. Snowpack is important because it provides a lot of our surface-water supply and our soil water moisture in our drier summer months. As we moved into 2014, we had a really hot summer. As we moved into the winter of 2014, we saw a similar situation to 2013 in that we weren't building snowpack, but it wasn't because of a lack of precipitation; it was our really warm winter. So storms would move in, they'd fall as rain, and they just weren't staying up in the mountains."

One video features Frank Burris, the county leader of the OSU Extension Service in Curry County and OSG's watershed health specialist for the southern Oregon coast. He describes riparian restoration projects that were prompted by concern over the effects of rising stream temperatures and reduced stream flow on salmon, a mainstay of the region's recreational fishing economy. Among the streams Burris worked on were Pea and Gallagher Creeks.

He helped the South Coast Watershed Council monitoring coordinator, Cindy Ricks Myers, place water-temperature data recorders, do statistical analyses of multiple-year water temperature data, and plant wetland specific plants in Pea Creek. In 1995, before they initiated these efforts, water temperatures on the lower part of the creek were much higher than on the upper. "By 2000," Burris said, "we had dropped the temperature six to seven degrees between the upper and the lower parts. By 2004, we had matched the temperatures almost perfectly."

For the Gallagher Creek project, Burris wrote the grant proposal, directed the work, installed data monitors, and analyzed the results. A crew dug a new channel through what had been a grassy pasture and planted trees to shade the creek. As a result, Burris said, water now flows for three to four additional weeks.

In a video filmed in Treasure Valley, Bill Buhrig, a crops specialist with the OSU Extension Service in Malheur County, talks about planting varieties of crops, such as corn, that mature faster. "It really is a huge factor in having success in a year where we don't have a full season of water," he said.

Buhrig also describes efforts by the Owyhee and Vale irrigation districts to conserve and extend the summer water supply by automating headgates and replacing open-ditch canal systems with gravity-fed, pressurized water via buried pipes.

"Through buried pipelines and gravity systems, we've been able to conserve water," said Jay Chamberlin, the manager for the Owyhee Irrigation District. "We probably get two to three weeks longer irrigation season because of those efficiencies."

In that same video, Dana Tuckness, owner of Tuckness Farm, a wheat and row-crop farm near Ontario, describes how he changed his farming practices because of the 2015 drought. "The way I've adapted to the short water this year is to not plant some crops," he said. "I left some ground idle. About half my sugar beet crop and probably about two-thirds of my bean crop I did not plant because of lack of water, and that way I'd have enough water to finish the crops that I did plant."

In a fourth video, Hiram Towle, the general manager of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, talks about how his business adapted to sparse winter snowfall by relocating snow and was thus open for 38 days in 2014-15 versus none in the prior ski season. The business, he said, aims to offer summer recreation activities such as ziplining, a bungee trampoline, disc golf and concerts to supplement ski-season income.

- First published in Confluence, Spring/Summer 2016

Learn more:

The videos, produced by OSG videographer Vanessa Ciccone in collaboration with Stevenson, are on our YouTube channel