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Masthead image featuring dry, barren climate with text reading "Oregon Drought" Drought in Oregon

Oregon and the western United States are in the worst megadrought on record. A megadrought is a period of extreme dryness that lasts for decades. Although there have been individual years of wet conditions over the past two decades, on average conditions have been drier than any other 22-year period in the past thousand years. 

Drought conditions impact water supplies, streamflow, agriculture productivity, wildfire danger, and ecosystem health.

Understanding drought

The leading contributors to drought are temperature and precipitation such as rain or snowfall. These two factors influence snowpack, soil moisture, and streamflows, which are common indicators of drought. Drought conditions can disrupt water supply cycles to the point that demand for water is greater than the water supply, impacting both people and ecosystems.

During a severe or multi-year drought, groundwater and above-ground reservoirs are not able to adequately refill. Unfortunately, this sets the stage for wildfires, poor grazing and crop conditions, decreased streamflows and habitat for fish, worse water quality, and scarce water supplies for human consumption.

Effects on water supply

Drought has become more persistent and more intense in recent years. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, over half of Oregon is in severe to exceptional drought. This leads to impacts on water supplies.

Water supplies in many Oregon reservoirs are much lower than normal. When less water is available than usual, it causes significant impacts on community water supplies, agricultural yields, and the health of ecosystems.

Oregon’s state agencies are coordinating to address recent drought impacts and support water users. In 2021, the Oregon legislature invested over $100 million in near-term drought relief. State leaders continue to work on opportunities for long-term resilience and planning for water scarcity. 

What you can do

Everyone in Oregon can take steps to conserve water during this period of extreme drought. Even small actions can help save water. Learn more about what you can do to use water wisely.

Frequently asked questions

The 22-year period from 2000 to 2021 is the driest period on record for Oregon in the past 1,200 years. For context, the drought that caused the Dust Bowl of the 1930s lasted for less than a decade.

Although there have been intermittent years of cool, wet weather, extreme dryness has prevailed. During this time, Oregon has experienced periods of record low water supply including low precipitation, streamflow, and reservoir storage. 

In recent years, Oregon has had less precipitation and hotter temperatures than in the past. The combination of lower precipitation and higher temperatures leads to an increase in moisture evaporating from the Earth’s surface. Higher temperatures can further stress water supplies and change the timing and rate of snowmelt. Early, rapid snowmelt leads to the earlier onset of low summer streamflows, which lowers the availability of water when demand is generally at its highest. Consecutive years of low precipitation and high temperatures have failed to replenish overall water supplies as expected during the normally wet winter months. 

Despite a wetter than average spring in parts of Oregon, drought remains extensive throughout much of Oregon (66%) and across the entire western United States (77%). The precipitation and cooler temperatures of spring 2022 were not enough to overcome the long-term moisture deficit accrued over the past several years, with exceptions in northwest and northeast Oregon. 

Based on climate outlooks, drought conditions are expected to persist throughout 2022. With the potential for reduced precipitation and elevated temperatures in the second half of the year, we should expect to see continued impacts from limited water supplies.

Because droughts are slow-moving disasters where impacts develop over time, persisting even after the rain and snow returns, building drought resiliency in Oregon requires an increase in preparedness and resiliency to adapt to climate change as drought conditions continue and we move toward a new normal. To do this, Oregon is working toward implementing the actions identified in the Integrated Water Resources Strategy and OWRD’s Executive Order 20-04 report​. This includes:
  • Investing in robust data collection to inform decision-making and planning efforts.
  • Increasing understanding of water challenges and the need to invest in solutions.
  • Supporting state, local, and regional planning efforts to address water supply challenges for people, communities, ecosystems, and businesses.
  • Investing in Oregon’s water future including built and natural water infrastructure. 

​All of us who live, work or play in Oregon are encouraged to conserve water and use it as efficiently as possible, regardless of the source. Taking steps to use less water is something that we can all do to preserve water for our own uses, our communities, to produce food and other products, for our recreational enjoyment, and for our environment. This includes both inside and outside the home, from municipal systems, and wells. The Oregon Water Resources Department has a list of resources to help people learn about saving water​. ​