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Oregon's governor tries to lessen impact of continuing drought

April 2005

U.S. Water News Online

SALEM, Ore. -- With Oregon irrigation reservoirs at 50 percent of normal and snowpack even less, Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced measures he hopes will lessen the threat to farmers and fire-prone forests from one of the driest winters on record.

The dry spell "has serious implications for the state's economy as our summer months are critical to agriculture, fishing and recreation," Kulongoski said at a news conference.

Barry Norris, technical services chief for the state Water Resources Department, said the state is facing a water year nearly as dry as 1977, which had set records for low snowpack.

Kulongoski said the state Forestry Department will assemble a plan by April 1 -- a month earlier than usual -- for rounding up extra firefighting crews and obtaining equipment, such as air tankers for water drops.

The governor also said he will consider whether to declare a statewide drought emergency next week after getting a recommendation from the state Drought Council, a technical panel.

He already has declared emergencies in Baker County, in Eastern Oregon, and Southern Oregon's Klamath County, a move that can give water users more flexibility to tap emergency water supplies.

Similar requests for declarations are pending from several other counties.

The governor urged the public to take steps to conserve water, even such small ones as planting spring flowers that don't need a lot of water and washing cars less often.

Kulongoski said the state is hampered by having all nine of its large Chinook National Guard helicopters, often used to battle forest fires, assigned to duty in the Middle East. The state's potential firefighting force also is reduced, he said, by having more than 1,000 Guard members serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

"Oregon has and continues to make great contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Kulongoski said. "But if the safety of our forests, our citizens and our economy become threatened because we do not have the flight tools or the people-power to fight fires, I expect the federal government to take whatever steps necessary to make sure Oregon doesn't pay twice for our contributions."

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