Governor Kitzhaber today declared drought emergencies in Klamath, Lake, Harney, and Malheur counties in southern Oregon. These counties border and share basins with California, which, along with southern Oregon, is experiencing one of the worst droughts in recorded history.
"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," said Governor Kitzhaber. "We face these severe water shortages after a dry year in 2013. The drought will not be resolved without prolonged, substantial snow and rainfall. Irrigators, ranchers, fisheries, and communities are under severe stress from both water shortages and the risk of wildfires on top of last season's record conditions. I am taking early and fast action to put all possible tools at the disposal of Oregon communities and businesses."
The Oregon Drought Council met on February 6 to review the drought conditions and make recommendations to Governor Kitzhaber on drought declarations. County commissioners in each of the four counties recently declared drought emergencies requesting state assistance from the Governor.
The Governor's drought declaration allows increased flexibility in how water is managed to ensure that limited supplies are used as efficiently as possible. In addition, the Governor is working with Oregon's federal delegation, state agencies, local governments, and other partners to coordinate efforts and mobilize actions to address drought-related issues.
Passage of the federal Farm Bill will make more resources available to affected farmers and ranchers, and emergency drought legislation co-sponsored by Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley would provide additional resources for emergency relief.
"The unusual act of declaring a drought emergency in the middle of February is an indication of how severe the conditions are in southern Oregon and of the hardships being faced by communities throughout the region," said Senator Wyden. "In the absence of a significant increase in rain and snowfall, it is vital that the state, federal, and local governments, along with water users, work together on the appropriate allocation of what water there is. This declaration will help achieve that."
"Even though the state has seen snow and rain during the last week, Oregon is still experiencing a terrible drought, especially in southern and eastern Oregon," said Senator Merkley. "Snowpack in the Klamath Basin is only 20 percent of normal. We need to start preparing now because water shortages are nearly inevitable. Today's declaration by the Governor will allow these counties greater flexibility in how water is managed and is a necessary step for what is looking like a rough year ahead."
The federal drought relief legislation will help farmers, businesses, and communities in Oregon and California. The legislation establishes emergency provisions to assist drought-affected areas and $300 million in emergency assistance.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Fresno, California, later today to meet to with California officials on the ongoing water shortages in the Central Valley and beyond.