The specter of drought is continuing to spread across snow-starved areas of southern and Eastern Oregon.
Gov. Kate Brown on Friday declared a drought emergency for Grant County, where the John Day Basin has experienced just half its normal snowpack for the year. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is also calling for “well below normal” stream flows heading into summer, which could have a significant impact on local farms and ranches.
Grant County becomes the second county in Oregon to officially declare drought. The governor already signed a drought declaration for Klamath County on March 13.
“For portions of Oregon, including Grant County, drought forecasts are already predicting a troubling year ahead,” Brown said. “To minimize the impacts drought, severe weather and wildfire conditions could have on the local economy, I’m directing state agencies to work with local and federal partners to provide assistance to the Grant County community.”
County commissioners passed a resolution March 14 declaring drought, and asking the state to follow suit. In a letter to the Oregon Water Resources Department and Office of Emergency Management, the commissioners said seasonal drought within the region could dramatically increase wildfire danger, and result in significant agricultural losses.
In 2015, Grant County was ravaged by the destructive Canyon Creek Complex, which torched more than 110,000 acres and destroyed more than 40 homes south of John Day and Canyon City.
A drought declaration gives the Water Resources Department a few additional tools at its disposal to assist communities and water right holders, such as issuing temporary emergency water use permits, water exchanges, substitutions and in-stream leases.
The U.S. Drought Monitor currently lists most of Grant County in “moderate drought.” According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, Oregon can largely expect above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation for the next three months.
No other counties have applied for drought relief, according to a spokeswoman with the Water Resources Department. All major basins statewide are reporting less-than-average snowpack, with the lowest levels in the Owyhee, Malheur and Klamath basins of southern Oregon.