Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Continuing drought still a heavy load for Ohio - in spite of August's rains

Ohio’s on-going drought could leave steelhead anglers high and dry.

Certainly, the data points to a decapitation of water resources throughout nearly the entire state, some locations more so than others. All of this comes in spite of a respite of sorts from the lack of sufficient rainfall during the month of August.

The little known and viewed - except for water management wonks – is called the “Monthly Water Inventory Report for Ohio,” developed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Water Resources. These reports are compiled toward the end of each month and include all of Ohio’s 10 designated districts with the current available one being for July.

This latest report notes that rainfall during July ranged from a low of 48 percent of normal for the West Central Ohio Region to 88 percent of normal for the Southwest Ohio unit. Only the state’s South Central unit recorded above average rainfall at 133 percent of normal.

By the report’s reckoning this was the 10th driest July on record for the Northwest Ohio Region in the past 122 years and 12th driest for both the state’s West Central and Central Hills regions.

As always when viewing precipitation levels, nothing falls evenly. Rainfall measurements ranged from 0.80 inches at Bucyrus in Crawford County to 7.84 inches at Jackson in Jackson County.

Of course, one month’s excesses or deficits neither a drought nor a flood makes. For that the Report notes precipitation for the 2016 reporting year records deficits in all but three regions: Central Ohio, Southwestern Ohio, and South Central Ohio.

Of critical importance are the dynamics as stated in the report’s Palmer Drought Severity Index; a measuring yardstick used to determine just how dry, dry is. The Index is a tool employed by water managers, agricultural interests and others dependent upon having such figures at their fingertips.

In virtually every one of the 10 reporting districts exists a minus notation in their respective Palmer Drought Severity indexes, too. These range from a minus-1.9 (“Mild Drought”) in the Southwest District to minus-4.5 (“Extreme Drought”) in the Northeast Hills District.

Off as well were the stream flows as gauged for nine Ohio rivers. Among the shortfalls recorded was on the Grand River which flowed at only 24 percent of normal during July, the Maumee River which flowed at just 27 percent of normal (the same as for the Huron River), and 33 percent of normal for the Muskingum River.

In the best shape – relatively speaking - was the Scioto River as measured at Higby which was gauged at 70 percent of normal.

It struck the Report to note that the decreased flow coupled by evaporation – brought about at least in some measure by the heat and generally abundant sunshine – caused reductions in water storage in “most reservoirs throughout Ohio.”

“However, current surface water supplies remain adequate throughout the state,” the Report states.

What all of this may mean if the dry weather continues – and looking ahead the month of October is often the driest one of the year – then access to streams by steelhead anglers could be restricted.

Consequently, steelheaders such as Bob Ashley of Mentor say they’ll be focusing on the lower reaches of Northeast Ohio’s stocked steelhead streams. In Ashley’s case that generally means concentrating on both the Grand and Chagrin rivers instead of further upstream at his usual lure and spawn sack-casting haunts.

Even more probable, Ashley says, he’ll spend as much time working the shoreline at such points as the Grand River’s West Breakwater or trolling in front of the Chagrin River; always before the sun touches the water.

Then again, Ashley says as well, he’s made lemonade out of the drought lemons handed to anglers this summer. He’s used the low water conditions to his advantage by discovering here-to-for unknown new undercuts in stream shale slips, and other structure that the normal deeper waters have hidden from observation.

“I’ve found places to fish that I didn’t know were there before,” Ashley says. “I’ll use this information later.”

Or when the rains return and thus the creeks are no longer running low and dry, of course.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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