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County declares drought

Lake County’s Board of Commissioners approved a formal drought declaration for submission to Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office during their Wednesday, Feb. 5, regular session.

Commissioners Ken Kestner and Brad Winters approved correspondence to the governor as well as Resolution 13-02-05 in the matter of declaration of a state drought emergency.  Commissioner Dan Shoun absent due to illness.

Commissioner Kestner recommended that ranchers and farmers look into programs available through the local Farm Service Agency for drought assistance funding programs.

The Commissioners’ action followed discussion on both Tuesday, Feb. 4, and an extensive presentation by Watermaster Brian Mayer on area water conditions at their Tuesday, Jan. 28, work session.

Mayer’s presentation, reflected in a news story in the Feb. 5 edition of the Examiner, detailed a bleak outlook on current versus historical water data.

“The Lake County Board of Commissioners requests approval of the attached Emergency Drought Declaration for all of Lake County under the provisions of ORS 401.055 as a direct result of ‘Severe and Continuing Drought Conditions’ to begin immediately and continue for an unspecified period of time,” the letter reads. “As you are aware, annual water supplies, snow pack and rain fall that are typically available for irrigation and domestic use within Lake County are stored in various lakes and reservoirs throughout our county.  These reserves are currently significantly below average at just 16 percent of capacity.  Estimated projections for precipitation do not provide much relief at just 34 to 45 percent of average.”

The declaration is aimed at qualifying the county for supplementary federal and state assistance in light of “multiple years of reduced precipitation and snow fall,” as indicated in the letter.

The county’s resolution reflects statistics from throughout the county of reduced water for irrigators and ranchers throughout the county.  A run-off forecast for Lake County’s main tributaries is reported at 40 percent of the average, while storage of area reservoirs is at 16 percent of capacity.

Water resources for irrigation stands at about 45,000 acres in the county, all of which will be out of water between April 1 and May 1, with an estimated 147,000 acres in other outlying areas out of water between the same dates. Impacts are also expected to some 84,000 acres of land irrigated with wells, according to the resolution.

Basin area snowpack is at 25 percent of normal and precipitation reported at 28 percent of average since the beginning of the water year, which runs from Oct. 1 through Jan. 1.

Along with a request for the governor to declare a drought emergency for all of Lake County, the resolution also calls for the availability of temporary transfers of water rights, emergency water use permits and use of existing right option/agreement as well as other federal and, as needed, state drought assistance from  the Oregon Department of Water Resources.

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