KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) — With precipitation only 15 percent of average this season, Klamath County commissioners declared a drought Tuesday for the second year in a row.
Commissioners will ask Gov. John Kitzhaber to follow suit with his own drought declaration and a state of emergency, the Herald and News reported (http://bit.ly/1kNnK3M ).
The county declaration is the first step toward setting up government aid for farmers and ranchers.
The Governor’s Drought Council plans to meet Thursday to consider recommendations, Kitzhaber spokeswoman Rachel Wray said in an email.
Last year’s drought led to irrigation shutoffs for cattle ranchers in the upper basin, after the Klamath Tribes decided to exercise newly awarded senior water rights to protect fish on former reservation lands. National wildlife refuges in the region were also short of water.
Farmers on the federal irrigation project straddling the Oregon-California border south of Klamath Falls are bracing for water shortages this summer.
“We’re not giving up on Mother Nature yet, but we’re trying to prepare,” said Greg Addington, director of the Klamath Water Users Association, which represents farmers on the Klamath Reclamation Project. “There will be shortages.
“This is probably as early as we have ever had a drought declaration, but there is no question it is needed. The sooner the better we get some of these processes going, because we know it is a difficult year ahead for us.”
Klamath Falls has had only 1.05 inches of precipitation since Sept. 1, compared with an average of 7.04 inches, National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Sandler said.
A stubborn high-pressure ridge off the West Coast has been diverting storms coming in from the Pacific.
George Buckingham, the county’s emergency management director, told commissioners that snowpack for the Klamath Basin was just 19 percent of normal as of Jan. 1, compared with 108 percent of normal at this point a year ago.