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Governor proclaims drought in Klamath


 March 15, 2005


In case there was any doubt, a proclamation from the governor makes it official.

There's a drought in Klamath County.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared a state of drought emergency in Klamath County last week, fulfilling a recommendation from the Klamath Board of Commissioners and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The declaration opens up state and federal aid for farmers and ranchers in the county if water is short this summer.

"Ultimately what it helps local communities do is apply for federal assistance," said Anna Richter Taylor, Kulongoski's spokeswoman. "If the water conditions continue as they are this will be another tool."

With a mild, dry winter coming to a close, federal streamflow forecasts have gotten worse for several months. The Natural Resources Conservation Service's March 1 forecast was for 52 percent of the average amount of water to flow into Upper Klamath Lake from April through September.

A key piece of the forecasting equation is mountain snowpack and it has been dwindling of late. The Conservation Service on Monday estimated the Klamath Basin snowpack to be 30 percent of normal for this time of year. Only last week it had been at 38 percent of normal.

The agency, which is tasked with making streamflow predictions for around the country, is set to come out with another forecast today.

The declaration assigns several state departments to help those affected by drought in Klamath County. With the declaration:

  • The Oregon Department of Agriculture will get federal resources that may be available to mitigate conditions and to assist agricultural recovery.
  • The Department of Water Resources will provide assistance and regulation.
  • The Office of Emergency Management will run assessment and mitigation activities to address current and projected drought conditions.

    All other departments will work with the three lead agencies to provide appropriate state resources.
    The declaration gives some advantages to county farmers by making low-interest loans and other aid possible, said Al Switzer, Klamath County commissioner.

    "I think we may need it," he said.
    With the declaration, the Bureau can call on about 70 extra wells that have emergency-use permits attached to them, said Rae Olsen, Bureau spokeswoman. Using the wells will help the Bureau acquire water for its federally required "water bank," a program designed to boost flows down the Klamath River to protect threatened coho salmon.

    "If it is a very dry year like it is shaping out to be, it is very hard to fill a 100,000-acre-foot water bank without the supplemental wells," she said.
    Kulongoski signed the declaration March 8 in Salem, following a request from the county commissioners in January. Kulongoski met on Feb. 22 with the Oregon Drought Council, a collection of state officials who work with natural resources, which recommended a drought emergency be declared.

    "It looks like the water tables are going to be low and the reservoirs are going to be low," said David Cassel, drought council chairman and an official with the Office of Emergency Management.
    Kulongoski also declared a drought in Klamath County last year, with the announcement coming in February.

    He said the state of Washington had already declared a drought, and the Drought Council will consider whether a statewide drought should be declared at a meeting on March 29. Along with the Klamath declaration, a drought emergency was also declared in Baker County.
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