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March 11, 2010

The Honorable Ted Kulongoski
900 court Street NE
Salem Oregon 97301

RE: Klamath County Drought Declaration Request

Dear Governor Kulongoski,

          This letter is to request that at the earliest time possible you declare that emergency hydrologic drought conditions currently exist in Klamath County.

          I was privileged to sit in on the Water Availability subcommittee meeting held yesterday at the Salem Armory. After careful consideration of all the current hydrologic factors, the sub-committee voted unanimously to recommend that a declaration of hydrologic drought be declared in Klamath County. Factors that were considered include 71% of normal snowpack, 51% of normal reservoir storage, 80% of normal precipitation to date, 63% of normal stream flow to date, and forecasted stream flow of only 30% to 65% of normal depending on the watershed area being measured.

          The existing hydrologic drought, in conjunction with the two biologic opinions, has created an untenable situation for irrigators who depend on surface water to grow their crops. The biological opinion designed to protect the endangered sucker fish requires that significant water be held in the Upper Klamath Lake reservoir thereby diminishing water available for diversion for irrigation. The biological opinion designed to protect the threatened Coho salmon requires that significantly more water be discharged from Upper Klamath Lake than has historically occurred in dry years to enhance stream flow. The combination of the effects of the hydrological drought and the effects of the biological opinions results in very little water being available for diversion for agricultural production.

          As you know, your declaration that emergency drought conditions exist will allow Klamath County drought wells to be used for irrigation. It will also allow significantly wider latitude for the Oregon Water Resources Department to authorize water transfers that will allow the farmers to selectively irrigate their highest value crop lands. I met with Oregon Water Resources Department Director Phil Ward in my office Monday and he assured me that his Department is ready and able to take immediate action to help mitigate the drought effects in any way that they legally can help.

          Your emergency drought declaration will also set the table for United States Department of Agriculture drought relief payments in the event that the existing drought results in 30% or more reduction in harvested crop value. We certainly hope that such crop losses can be avoided, but in the event that they do occur the drought relief payments may well be the income required for some family farming operations to remain economically viable.

          Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Senator Doug Whitsett
District 28

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