Reaching the shore of Phillips Reservoir in Oregon requires a long and dusty downhill walk these days.
Almost as long as it's ever been, in fact.
But nothing like as long as it will take to refill this largest reservoir that's wholly within Baker County, said Jeff Colton, manager of the Baker Valley Irrigation District.
After four years of drought, it probably will take two winters with deeper than average mountain snowpacks to replenish Phillips, which gathers the waters of the Powder River and several minor tributaries.
Water from the reservoir irrigates more than 30,000 acres of crops, mainly in Baker Valley.
"I'm hoping we'll start pulling out of this cycle," Colton said. "I'm ready for it."
That cycle has depleted the reservoir, which is about 17 miles southwest of Baker City, to its lowest level since 2001, and to its third-lowest volume since Mason Dam was built in the late 1960s.
As of Wednesday morning the reservoir was holding about 2,780 acre-feet of water.
That's about 4 percent of its capacity of 73,500 acre-feet.
The reservoir has been lower in the last week of September just twice — in 2001, when the volume was 2,665 acre-feet on this date, and in 1988, when it was 1,318 acre-feet.
Mark Ward, who with his brother, Craig, raises potatoes, wheat, alfalfa and peppermint on their family's farm in Baker Valley, said the current drought is the worst he's seen since he graduated from college in 1979.
"Maybe a single year was worse, but this is prolonged," Ward said.
With the reservoir failing to reach even half full this spring, the irrigation district was able to dole out much less water than is available during a year when Phillips refills — 1.25 acre-feet of water per acre of land, as compared with 3.5 acre-feet.
Ward said the water shortage forced his family to leave about 15 percent of its acreage fallow.
Nor was the scarcity of water from Phillips Reservoir the only challenge this year.
Rainfall, too, was scanty during the growing season.
Rain totals have been below average every month this year except July.
Even if precipitation during October, November and December is average, 2016 will be the second-driest year on record at the airport, where statistics date to 1943.
Only 2002, when precipitation totaled 5.63 inches, would be drier.
The annual average at the airport is 10.15 inches.
Barring an abnormally soggy autumn, 2016 will be the fourth year in the past five that's drier than usual.
And although the amount of water in Phillips Reservoir is influenced more by the snowpack in the Elkhorn Mountains than by rainfall in Baker Valley, there is a correlation.