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Crook County again declares drought emergency


Crook County became the fourth Oregon county Thursday to declare a drought state of emergency this year, joining Lake, Malheur, and Klamath counties.

It’s the second year in a row the county has asked for relief. Before that, 15 years had passed since the region last declared such an emergency.

Crook County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Manager Michael Ryan said the declaration could help affected populations, such as farmers and ranchers, get financial assistance.

“The Oregon Department of Agriculture, Water Resources Department and Office of Emergency Management (can) step in and help solve some of our issues out here,” Ryan said Thursday.

The biggest issue is a low snowpack. Ochoco Irrigation District Manager Mike Kasberger said area snowpack sits at 10 to 17 percent of normal.

Although the Prineville and Ochoco reservoirs are fuller than last year, at 78 and 73 percent respectively, there is worry that next year, the reserves will be in bad shape.

Ochoco Irrigation recently decided to limit this season’s water supplies to 2.5 acre-feet per acre — a normal precipitation year would allow for 3 acre-feet.

The bigger problem is how the snowpack will affect those who don’t draw from the reservoirs.

“It’s serious, the runoff is now turning into a trickle,” Kasberger said. “The real story is how the snowpack will affect the (ranches) above the reservoirs.”

Communities like Post and Paulina rely on rivers and creeks fed by melting snow for irrigation. The flows are already way below average.

The McCormick family owns a beef ranch about an hour outside of Prineville, above the reservoir. Holly McCormick told NewsChannel 21 they’re expecting a tough year.

“We are really worried. we’re already buying hay for next year,” McCormick said.

Powell Butte cattle rancher Art Proctor said his property is fed by the Central Oregon Irrigation District. He said he’s not worried because the district has enough water — but he understands the concerns of fellow ranchers.

“If you don’t have any water, you don’t have any grass,” Proctor said. “If you don’t have any grass, you don’t have any feed for your cows.”

Helena Chemicals crop consultant Scott Simmons agrees the potential for losses has a wide-ranging ripple effect, trickling into other industries.

“It would impact our fertilizer sales,” Simmons said. “If crops are limited by water, nobody will fertilize for a second cutting.”

All that is leaving everyone in Crook County waiting for what a new season will bring.

“We’re praying for a wet spring,” Simmons said.

Ryan said another cause for concern is wildfires this summer. He said crews often dip for water out of reservoirs and creeks — so an already anticipated severe wildfire season could be further affected, if water supplies are limited.

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