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PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Tuesday, June 8, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order declaring a state of drought emergency in Jefferson and Deschutes counties due to lack of precipitation and unusually low snowpack and streamflow.
A second declaration includes Crook, Harney, Malheur, Sherman and Wallowa counties. They join Lake, Jackson and Klamath counties, which received drought designation earlier this spring.
The declaration says, “Extreme conditions are expected to affect local growers, increase the potential for fire, shorten the growing season, and decrease water supplies.”
“Farmers live in constant fear,” says Jefferson County Commissioner Kelly Simmelink. “Some have told me they’re terrified, and I don’t know what the hell to do for them.”
At Simmelink’s prompting, Jefferson County Commissioners voted Wednesday, June 9, to grant the North Unit Irrigation District $10,000 from the county’s disaster fund for water marketing to encourage sharing of resources between basin partners.
“Agriculture is the backbone of this county,” says Simmelink, “and the economic ramifications are of the utmost importance.”
Jefferson County has junior water rights, which means all other irrigation districts in the Deschutes Basin get their water needs supplied first, even though a higher percentage of water users in NUID are farmers who rely on water for their livelihood.
“I am encouraged to hear,” Brown continues, “that local irrigators in these two counties are working together to seek creative solutions around sharing available water.”
By declaring the emergency, the governor directs the Oregon Department of Agriculture to seek federal resources to mitigate drought conditions and assist agricultural recovering in Deschutes and Jefferson counties.