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