State grants $17 million in aid to drought-hit Jefferson County

December 15, 2021
State grants $17 million in aid to drought-hit Jefferson County

Funds to assist farmers who have had their water allotments slashed amid record drought

By Michael KohnLawmakers in Salem approved on Monday a package to assist drought-hit areas of the state, including $17.1 million for Jefferson County.The drought assistance is part of a $100 million package, with the bulk of funds going to farmers in the Klamath Basin.Jefferson County farmers have been hard hit by drought in recent years, with this year’s water allocation slashed midseason after an exceptionally hot and dry June when temperatures soared into the triple digits for several days in a row.The assistance for Jefferson County includes $5.5 million to help pay U.S. Bureau of Reclamation contracts. Mike Britton, executive manager for North Unit Irrigation District, said the assistance will help the district and other contractors cover contract payments to the bureau.The funding may also be used to assist in covering assessments where farmers face losses due to the historic drought and water shortages, said Britton. It’s not clear yet how this assistance will be provided to farmers, but one possibility is a credit on their water bill, he said.Approximately $5.6 million of the aid package is set aside for Jefferson County farmers to be used as forgivable loan assistance.“The aid will fill the gaps of federal programs, or if no federal program exists it will provide bridge funding assistance for NUID patrons in need,” said Britton.The $5.6 million is part of the state’s $40 million agricultural forgivable disaster loan program. A minimum of 14% was allocated for farmers and ranchers in Jefferson County.The legislative package also includes $1 million for drought resiliency work in Jefferson County, $3 million for an emergency soil conservation fund in Jefferson County and $2 million in match funding for irrigation modernization projects.The funds were less than North Unit was originally seeking. In July the irrigation district put in a request for $30 million in assistance, funds the district wanted to use to help farmers who have been forced to plant half their acreage, or who experienced poor yields, due to heat and low water supplies.But Britton said getting anything close to that looked like a longshot two weeks ago when the first drought relief package was just $2 million split between six to eight irrigation districts.“It was a pleasant surprise when it was all said and done,” said Britton.The funds were made available after the Legislature earlier this year set aside $150 million to respond to natural disaster prevention, preparedness, response and recovery activities.In addition to the funds for Jefferson County, the state granted Deschutes County $585,200 for domestic and community well assistance. These funds will assist homeowners who need to drill deeper into the ground to tap into the water supply due to a diminished water table.

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