Severe drought declaration possible in Deschutes County

June 9, 2020
Severe drought declaration possible in Deschutes County

State funding for farmers possible under drought declaration 

By Michael Kohn

Irrigation districts across Central Oregon are seeking assistance from the state to deal with prolonged drought conditions that have kept reservoirs at historic lows in recent years and forced farmers to keep thousands of acres of land fallow due to water shortages.

The Deschutes Basin Board of Control — which includes eight irrigation districts in Central Oregon — has asked the Deschutes County Commission to declare a state of severe drought in the county, according to a letter reviewed by The Bulletin. The letter also requests that Gov. Kate Brown issue an executive order, declaring drought in the county.

A declaration allows irrigators access to emergency water supplies such as groundwater, or transfers of water from other lands. For farmers, drought status allows them to utilize crop insurance. Federal and state drought assistance programs could also become available if Brown approves the emergency declaration.

“Widespread and severe damage” could occur to the agricultural and natural resources industries, as well as tourism and recreation, according to the letter sent to Deschutes County Commissioners Patti Adair, Phil Henderson and Tony DeBone.

The commissioners will consider the request from the board of control at a meeting on Wednesday.

Despite recent rains, Central Oregon’s snowpack and precipitation remain below average for the year. As of Tuesday, the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basin was 77% of average for rainfall. Snowpack was just 35% of average.

“A few weeks of rain after months of low precipitation and streamflow is not enough to erase long-term deficits,” said Ken Stahr, surface water hydrology manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department.

Scott Oviatt, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Portland, said he expects snowmelt to occur one to two weeks earlier than normal in the Deschutes and Crooked River basin.

The U.S. drought monitor shows the majority of Deschutes County in severe drought conditions with parts of Jefferson and Wasco counties in extreme drought conditions.

Reservoirs are also at or near record lows. Wickiup Reservoir, which stores water for the North Unit Irrigation District farmers located mainly around Culver and Madras, contained 95,608 acre-feet of water as of Tuesday, which is just 61% of average. The extended weather forecast for Central Oregon from the National Weather Service predicts higher than normal temperatures and below-average precipitation.

“If we continue to receive much-needed precipitation, it would certainly help a lot,” said Stahr. “But the long-term forecast of warmer and drier than normal conditions does not support this optimism.”

Reporter: 541-617-7818,

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