For the fourth year in a row, commissioners have declared a drought in Klamath County.
This year, Klamath County’s drought rates as “extreme,” said county emergency manager Morgan Lindsay. Last year, it was listed as “severe.”
The National Drought Mitigation Center classifies droughts on a scale starting with abnormally dry and increasing to moderate drought, severe drought, extreme drought and exceptional drought. Parts of California and Nevada are in extreme drought, Lindsay said.
Commissioners made their declaration by a unanimous vote during their regular meeting Tuesday. Commissioners made similar declarations in 2014, 2013 and 2012, according to previous Herald and News articles.
Though it was raining outside while the commissioners made their declaration, rain is not all the precipitation Klamath County needs. It needs snow to store water for the dry summer and especially for irrigation and agriculture.
As of Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service listed the Klamath Basin’s snow water equivalent at just 6 percent.
“It’s really odd this year, some of our precipitation has been so high but there has been no snow. There is no reserve,” said commission chairman Tom Mallams.
“We got our normal precipitation for rain. People question whether we’re in a drought because we got all the precipitation,” said commissioner Jim Bellet. “We rely on snow. We always look at the snowpack.”
Given the low snowpack this year and the high rain precipitation, commissioners said it is important for Klamath County to look at water storage as an option for the future.
“Now is the time to have those discussions on storage,” Mallams said. “We are in a severe situation where there’s a solution out there that’s been staring us in the face for decades, for generations.”
Last week, Malheur and Lake counties declared droughts, and Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown declared drought emergencies in those counties at the state level. With Klamath County declaring Tuesday, Lindsay guessed Brown may mark Klamath County’s drought emergency by the end of the week. Harney County is also seeking state drought declaration.
“Declaring the emergency drought here in Klamath County will be the mechanism that will help funnel that federal and state aid to our area,” Lindsay said.
Last year, Congress funded $183 million in drought relief, Lindsay said, most of which went to California. She is tracking down how much came to Oregon and Klamath County. Funds are made available through programs like the USDA and the Farm Service Agency.
“It is clear we did benefit from some of that money and some of those programs last year,” Lindsay said.