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Drought Conditions Reach Unexpected Corners Of Northwest

Jessica Robinson
Northwest News Network
Kevin Kirlin, a hydrologic technician with the U.S. Geological Survey, regularly collects water samples and takes measurements on the Coeur d'Alene River.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows almost all of eastern Oregon and parts of eastern Washington are now in severe drought.

But the dry conditions are also reaching into corners of the Northwest that usually remain relatively lush.

An example is the south fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. The river feels different and is slower than normal.

“Typically I’m not able to wade through this river this time of the year,” said Kevin Kirlin of the U.S. Geological Survey. He said typically the current is so fast, he needs the help of a four-wheeled crane to collect samples from the middle of the river.

Yet there he was in his brown waders, in a river that didn’t seem to know it’s early June.

“What we’re seeing here are flows that would typically be mid to late July flows,” Kirlin explained.

In fact, north Idaho rivers are showing record lows. Rain storms in February and March depleted what little snowpack north Idaho got.

One nearby river gauge showed water flowing at 258 cubic feet per second. Normally it would be more than 800 -- three times the present volume.

Kirlin said the region has enough groundwater to ward off California-style water shortages. But he said to expect to see a lot more sandbars in the river this summer.