“Less snow is the new norm. That’s trouble for farmers”
Columbia Insight Dec. 3, 2020
For decades climate researchers have warned that as atmospheric temperatures continue to rise, the Pacific Northwest will have less snow and consequently less water to irrigate its crops. As if to hammer the point home, this year Oregon experienced yet another drought due in part to rising temperatures and melting snow.
In 2020, Oregon experienced some of its driest conditions on record. And yet, despite the overall lack of precipitation, the state’s mountains received more or less normal amounts of snow.
However, above-average spring temperatures melted mountain snow several weeks earlier than normal in several Oregon basins. This led to water flushing through local rivers and streams before it could be used for irrigation during the late spring and summer growing seasons. As temperatures continued to rise throughout the summer, water shortages and drought declarations followed.
Around the same time Oregon farmers were watching their water drain away, a May 2020 study published in the UK-based scientific journal Nature Climate Change literally put the Columbia River Basin on the world map as a watershed whose dependence on snow for irrigation places it on the losing side of climate change.
Here, too, the reason had to do with rising temperatures and melting snow, and here, too, the point was hammered home.
The study concluded that under future warming, the Columbia River Basin, the Pacific Northwest’s largest hydrologic basin, is likely to lose so much mountain snow that it will experience about the same degree of water scarcity as the Middle East basin containing the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. In fact, the Columbia River Basin actually comes out looking a little worse off than the Tigris/Euphrates Basin, according to the study.