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It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Posted by Renee Magyar on January 24, 2014

But it's really supposed to be raining right now.

Portland-blue-sky-in-January

Waiting to cross the street last week, standing with my face turned to the unseasonably bright blue sky and radiant sun, a fellow pedestrian broached a conversation typical between strangers. "Isn't it just a beautiful day? This weather is perfect." Well, it is and it isn't. I enjoy the guilty pleasure of a dry winter day as much as my fellow Portlanders, but lately it seems we've been getting more than our share.

Weather is a matter of convenience for city dwellers in our part of the state. For the most part we don't depend on precipitation for our livelihood. For farmers and ranchers in the rural parts of the state, it's a different story. 

The Klamath Basin is currently at about 30 percent of average annual precipitation. Unless we get a few significant storms this winter to build up mountain snowpack, we are undoubtedly going to see a repeat of last summer's drought. It is likely that once again there will not be enough water to go around. In the future, we expect the basin to be in a better place for weathering another drought, thanks to a very dedicated coalition of local interests and agency representatives who signed an agreement in principle in December, and are currently pursuing a final pact that will help moderate the impact of short water. While this agreement won't fully deaden the blow if things stay this dry, it does anticipate programs that can help landowners become less vulnerable to drought, like compensating farmers in advance that forgo irrigation, and introducing cropping and grazing practices that require less water.

Is this precipitation shortage due to climate change? Probably. What can we do about it? We can start by thinking outside the city. When we look at the sky and think about our local weather, we need to think about what is happening in the rest of the state; we're all connected under the Oregon sky. If it's not raining in Portland, it's probably not raining or snowing elsewhere in the state. Lack of availability of certain foods, or higher produce costs is how Portlanders are likely to feel a drought, whereas, our eastern neighbors are wondering if they can pay their bills, maintain their ranch, or continue their way of life. We can also voice our support for a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will provide millions for rural community infrastructure, greater security for struggling farmers and ranches across the country, as well as renewable energy initiatives.  

I don't wish to rain on our sunny Portland parade so in exchange I'll offer this: when our typical wet and grey winter weather finally returns, let's remember our neighbors across the state who share our Oregonian sky will be breathing a sigh of relief, as will the rivers, the fish, and the trees. Hopefully this thought warms everyone from the inside, as much as our recent sun has warmed us on the outside. 

Renee Magyar is communications manager at Sustainable Northwest, and she proudly dons rain gear for her winter bike commute.