SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that she declared a drought emergency in Lake and Malheur counties in southeastern Oregon.
Oregon received an average amount of precipitation since the fall, but warmer temperatures caused more rain than usual. As a result, the state is headed into summer with less snow than many areas need.
Snowpack has already peaked for the season, and it hit record lows in many locations in the Cascades and elsewhere across the state, according to a federal report.
“In a year such as this when there is limited snowpack, summer streamflow volumes are expected be below normal and streams will likely peak earlier than normal,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service wrote in a March basin report for Oregon. “Rainfall over the next couple months may help improve reservoir storage and increase streamflows during the storm events, but it will not help with streamflow this summer.”
Brown’s signature of the drought declaration Monday came after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a drought declaration Friday for three regions of that state: the Olympic Peninsula, on the east side of the central Cascade Mountains including Yakima and Wenatchee, and the Walla Walla region.
In Oregon, Lake and Malheur county commissioners had requested the drought declaration. Officials in three other counties — Crook, Harney and Klamath — are considering whether to ask the state to include them in the drought designation, said Racquel Rancier, senior policy coordinator for the Oregon Water Resources Department. Requests from counties are reviewed by the state drought council, which in turn issues recommendations to the governor.
Brown said in a press release Tuesday that projected forecasts in Lake and Malheur counties “look bleak.”
“In addition to creating an increased wildfire risk, this drought presents hardships to crops, agriculture, communities, recreation, and wildlife, all of which rely on Oregon’s water resources,” Brown said. “I will continue working with federal, state, and local partners to help Oregonians in this part of the state through this challenging situation.”
The drought declaration allows state water managers to use additional tools to help farmers and other people who face water shortages. Options include speeding up decisions on water permits and issuing emergency temporary permits for people who cannot access water using their permanent rights due to the drought. For example, someone who usually diverts water from a stream that ran dry could apply for a temporary groundwater permit, Rancier said.
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.