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Drought Declared, Four Oregon counties to receive state relief

Herald and News 2/14/14 by Lacey Jarrell

John Kitzhaber“We are already seeing the effects of the ongoing and prolonged drought in Southern Oregon counties, with snowpack in the Klamath Basin only 20 percent of normal,” Kitzhaber said in a news release and later in talking with the Herald and News. “We faced these severe water shortages after a dry year in 2013.”

It’s likely another declaration will come down in Jackson County, too, Kitzhaber said.

The emergency funds are available to Southern Oregon and California farmers, who are entering a statewide 14-year drought. According to a U.S. Forest Service survey in the Scott River drainage, snowpack levels in the California’s lower Klamath Basin are extremely low: Snow depth is only 1.4 percent of normal and water content is 2.8 percent of normal compared to historical values for February.

Kitzhaber said he and Gov. Jerry Brown, who declared a statewide drought in California last month, consider the drought a basinwide issue, and will tackle it as a joint effort.

“Water doesn’t respect political boundaries. We are coordinating closely with the state of California,” Kitzhaber said.

Klamath County commissioner Tom Mallams said past drought declarations have aided only a fraction of Basin farmers. But since the Livestock Forage Disaster Program and the Livestock Indemnity Program are being reinstated as part of the recently passed Farm Bill, his confidence in emergency relief for Basin farmers has increased.

“There is a very definite possibility that some programs will be a benefit to Basin irrigators,” Mallams said.

Klamath County commissioners declared the county in a drought Feb. 4. Declaring a drought and a state of emergency allows the county to access programs to help farmers and ranchers. Last year commissioners made a similar declaration on April 16.

An emergency drought declaration request from Lake County commissioners Feb. 5 stated their water reserves are “significantly below average, at just 16 percent of capacity. Estimated projections for precipitation do not provide much relief at just 34 to 45 percent of average.”

Although the declarations will bring some immediate relief to region farmers, Kitzhaber plans to continue seeking long-term solutions.

“I believe we can respond to this year-by-year. We need to develop a long-term 10-year strategy about how we’re actually going to, not only do a better job with water conservation, but also increase the supply,” he said.

“It’s very sobering to think that in the middle of February, we’ve already had three forest fires in Oregon and four drought declarations. We need to work very diligently to assume that we’re going to have a really bad summer and figure out what we can do collectively,” he added.

Local strategies for water management, such as bringing mayors and watermasters together to figure out voluntary municipal water conservation measures, also are being explored, he said.

In addition to assistance from the state of California drought declaration, President Barack Obama pledged Friday to make $100 million available to California livestock ranchers who have lost cattle because of the drought. Kitzhaber said he does not expect a federal drought declaration for Oregon just yet.

“We’re keeping our eye on it,” Kitzhaber said.

A new piece of emergency drought legislation introduced by California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and co-sponsored by Oregon Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, could provide even more aid to the drought-stricken states, especially Klamath County, according to Kitzhaber.

“We’ve been working very hard to make sure a portion of the dollars benefit the Klamath Basin. It doesn’t create water, but it gives us some more tools to manage the water that we do have,” Kitzhaber said.

ljarrell@heraldandnews.com; @LMJatHandN

Water settlement deadline missed
     Another tentative deadline for a stakeholder water settlement above Upper Klamath Lake was missed Friday.

   The committee, which consists of the Klamath Tribes, upper Basin irrigators, environmental groups and other stakeholders, has been working to finalize an “agreement in principle” (AIP) announced in December.

   If approved by the Klamath Tribal Council and a host of irrigators, the AIP will become one component of the proposed legislation that will cover the upper Basin; the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) including Klamath   Reclamation Project irrigators and the Klamath Hydro Settlement Agreement with PacifiCorp, which may involve removing four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.

   The Friday goal was set after the stakeholder group missed its first self-imposed deadline, Jan. 17.

   The group had been meeting weekly in Klamath Falls as the Jan. 17 deadline approached; once it passed the group began meeting more frequently, finally meeting daily this week.

   “We made a lot of progress this week,” said Richard Whitman, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s natural resource adviser. “We’re   making solid progress.”

   Whitman declined to offer a new tentative completion date, but did say once a settlement has been reached, a 30-day review and comment period will be offered before stakeholders sign off on the agreement.

   The group is a subcommittee of the Klamath Basin Task Force. The task force’s objective is to create an all-inclusive piece of legislation that addresses power delivery to on- and offproject irrigators, resolves water issues above Upper Klamath Lake and reduces the federal budget for the projects.



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