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Commissioners declare Drought emergency; dry summer could lead to $557 million loss for local ag

by STEPHEN FLOYD Herald and News Feb 21, 2018

Klamath County commissioners have declared a drought emergency as dry conditions forecast for this summer could result in a half-a-billion dollar loss to local agriculture.

Approved unanimously Tuesday morning, the declaration allows state and federal officials to consider a similar declaration, which would then allow access to drought mitigation resources.

The governor’s office is expected to take action by the middle of next month. The federal government may not consider declaring a drought until this summer when conditions become severe enough to do so.


Not too early, not too late

Commissioners began discussing a drought declaration in January and said, though February and March may bring rain and snow, they did not want to take action too late. Commissioners initially delayed declaring a drought because, if they took action too early, access to resources may expire before the end of the summer.

According to Tuesday’s declaration, a drought this summer could result in an estimated $557 million loss to agriculture countywide, as well as the loss of nearly 4,500 jobs. These estimates were based on data collected in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A drought is expected due to exceptionally dry conditions experienced throughout this winter. In December, precipitation was 27 percent of the average, while accumulated snow and water levels were at 28 percent of the average as of Feb. 14.

Bite out of food production

Besides an economic hit, drought forecasts may reduce food availability as well.

Willie Riggs, director of Oregon State University Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center, told commissioners an acre of wheat feeds 44 people per year; an acre of potatoes feeds 1,355 people per year; an acre of beef feeds around eight people per year; and an acre of dairy cows provides enough milk for around 40,000 half-pint servings.

“We’re a food production system and this is the amount of food that is lost globally now,” he said of potential drought outcomes. “Somebody else has to make it up. I don’t know where it’s going to come from.”

Commissioners estimated there are nearly 440,000 acres of agricultural land within the county and production could be reduced by half due to the drought.

Commissioner Donnie Boyd said thinking about the drought in human terms rather than strict economic figures helps illustrate the emergent need.

“I’ve never seen $1 million, let alone $557 million, but I have seen 44 people,” he said.

"Hopefully we can help get some government assistance to keep our agricultural community alive through 2018," added Boyd.

Administrative resources


If the drought is declared at the state and federal level, water users could have access to administrative solutions they normally would not.

Klamath County Emergency Manager Morgan Lindsay said water users could split water rights between properties, substitute surface water use for ground water, issue temporary emergency permits and other measures. Preference would be given to water used by humans and livestock.

Lindsay said, if commissioners did not want to wait until the summer for a declaration from the feds, they could request a secretarial drought declaration directly. Otherwise, she said conditions in Klamath Falls must meet certain severity classifications before a federal declaration.

If state and federal emergencies are declared, Lindsay said her office will not be directly involved in dispensing aid to water users. Instead, the Oregon Water Resource Department will act through Klamath County Watermaster Dani Watson, while federal aid will be provided through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Services Agency.

A strong community

Despite dire predictions for this summer, Commissioner Derrick DeGroot said he believes Klamath County will be able to endure due to the strength and cohesion among its residents.

"I think it’s important that we all stick together, as this community tends to do," he said.

DeGroot said well-paying, stable jobs have grown in Klamath County during the recent past and such jobs will help the county's economy survive. He said, though a drought will impact the county's economic progress, he believes growth will ultimately continue to trend upward.

"Even though this is a major obstacle — it’s something we’re all going to feel the impact of — I think it’s important that we keep our chin up and our eyes forward," he said. "The resiliency of this community will be tested, but I think we are up to the task."






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