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Drought declared in Klamath County

by Holly Dillemuth, Herald and News March 5, 2020

Klamath Basin officials learned Wednesday that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown had signed an executive order on Monday declaring drought in Klamath County.

The action is due to a snow water equivalent that has dipped to 65% of normal with a forecast of warm weather on the horizon. A drought declaration is aimed at providing opportunities for farmers to apply for aid to supplement losses.

Klamath Water Users Association and the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency (KPDRA) are meeting publicly at 1 p.m., on Thursday at Klamath County Fairgrounds to discuss the way forward through what some anticipate to be similar to Spring and Summer 2010.

Agricultural producers and the public are invited to learn more about the state of the drought, and resources available to Basin farmers.

KWUA and Klamath Irrigation District board member Jerry Enman said that the Klamath County Commissioners had requested the declaration from the Governor in a letter dated February 25.

“The County Commission, as well as the Supervisors in Modoc and Siskiyou, have been on top of this and are working hard to protect the agricultural community,” Enman said in a news release.

Tricia Hill, president of KWUA’s board of directors, thanked county commissioners and others in the community who brought the potential for drought to the Governor’s attention.

“We appreciate her (Gov. Brown) recognizing that we’ve got an issue down here and it’s progressively getting worse,” Hill said.

Hill said Thursday’s public meeting will provide a consolidation of the information regarding how much water irrigators will have access to this Summer for their crops. The KPDRA and USDA officials also may be on hand to help connect producers to available resources.

“Right now, we just felt like it was really important to provide all the information that we have at this moment in time,” Hill said.

“Just kind of a preview to let people know kind of where we’re at.”

Hill said due to the projected allocation being so low, KWUA has contacted USDA and plan to hold an additional meeting in two to three weeks once more is known.

“Frankly, unless we get some precipitation, it could keep going, getting worse,” Hill said, of the coming Summer.

“That’s why we wanted to communicate with people early on so they can start making the best plans they can make.”

In Hill’s recollection, she compares this water year to 2010, when the Project received one third of it’s normal water allocation, according to a March 2010 H&N story.

Hill recalled the lack of adequate water supply that year had a “severe impact” on the Basin economically.

Malin grower Rob Unruh is one of many who likely remembers the drought that Summer, too.

Unruh, a Klamath Drought Response Agency Secretary and a KWUA board member, is waiting to see what ground he can farm and what land he may leave idle this Summer.

Unruh grows chip potatoes, alfalfa and grain in Malin, is one of many growers concerned about the water supply that will be available to him and other farmers this Spring and Summer.

“It’s going to be really hard on our communities and the few family farms that are left down here,” Unruh said.

“We’ve got to have 130% of average to have a normal (water) year … Something’s got to change to help farmers and species.”

He said with ground wells and supplemental permits will work in his favor, but that these are not available to all growers.

“If it wasn’t for the well water up here, I’d be in bad shape,” Unruh said.

“People are working hard to make sure that the crop insurance is there, done right,” he added.

Hill said one of the things she remembers most about the drought of 2010 is how many people tried to help one another.

“I felt like the community really tried to work together to get through things and I hope that that spirit – we can do that again next year ‘cause it’s going to be rough,” Hill said.

Hill said water users are continuing to engage the Congressional Delegation and the Trump administration to continue to look at how water is managed in the Klamath Reclamation Project, and ensuring resources are being managed in the most effective way.

“We’ll get through it, but this one I don’t think is going to be pretty,” Hill said.


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