Not immune from extremes

By Harlan Scott April 02, 2010 02:05 pm

The increasing number of weather events deviating from the normal pressure state and county governments into a new phase of planning.

Record-breaking storm events in parts of the United States coupled with drier and warmer winters in our area are, according to climatologists, going to be occurring with increasing frequency. El Nino and La Nina conditions, which are mainly responsible for weather extremes, can be expected to occur regularly because of the gradual increase in ocean temperatures.

Global warming, man-caused or not, might be better named “Global Extremity.” Although certain parts of the United States have, in the past, been blessed with somewhat predictable weather patterns, predictability now appears to be out the window. Union County can no longer be reasonably assured that it will have adequate precipitation to meet agricultural and fisheries demands; nor can it be assured that it would be immune to catastrophic flooding from intense storm events.

Although the Grande Ronde Valley is blessed with absorbent gravel in the upper Grande Ronde River that annually collects and replenishes many of the shallower aquifiers in the valley, the deeper basalt aquifiers are not being sustained at a static level. Irrigation from wells and draws from the Grande Ronde and Catherine Creek provide an economic stimulus from a wide diversity of crops and the recreational use of the fisheries are an economic benefit. The trend toward mountain snowpacks relinquishing their snow reserves earlier each spring does not assure that the Grande Ronde Valley is immune from future water shortages.

On the other hand, first-time weather events, such as the record snows and rainfalls this year in the eastern states plus record precipitation in parts of Arizona and California, show that no part of the country is immune from these extreme weather patterns. This summer, I was witness to a more localized event occurring on Cricket Flat where three inches of rain fell in about two hours. The large volumes of water discharges generated in very short drainages was unbelievable.

An engineer once told me that a four-inch rainfall event throughout Union County could create major flooding in Union, La Grande, Island City and Elgin due to little leeway between river channels and city elevations. He also added that a narrow bottleneck in the river channel near Hamburger Hill would slow escapement of flood waters.

It would be a progressive step to see state and county governments take a preparedness path rather than being in the reactionary category in dealing with their water resources. Their position could be compared to a drug gang moving into a safe residential neighborhood. The residents would have to change their living habits such as locking their doors, protecting their children, etc. Following this analogy, Union County planners should take some conceptional steps to make these new weather changes.

Securing a grant to write a comprehensive action plan would be the first suggested step. This would pave the way for our future funding of proposed projects, such as monitoring of deep well static water levels, flood and irrigation reservoirs, water conservation measures and other steps dealing with safety issues.

In closing, it would appear that our weather has changed from a somewhat predictable pattern to a system bent on breaking records. It’s kind of like a small child throwing a dart at a dart board — we will not know where the dart will land.

Harlan N. Scott is an Elgin resident.