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Deschutes County

Deschutes commissioners hold off on declaring state of severe drought

Precipitation and snowpack levels are lower than average this time of year

(Update: Adding video; commissioners take no immediate action; irrigation district comments

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Deschutes County commissioners on Wednesday discussed, but did not decide upon a declaration of severe drought in the county, following up on area irrigators' request that Gov. Kate Brown take similar action.

The letter sent to the governor by the Deschutes Basin Board of Control asks the governor issue an executive order, declaring drought in Deschutes County.

The Deschutes Basin Board of Control is comprised of eight irrigation districts in Central Oregon. A declaration of drought would allow irrigators to access emergency supplies, such as groundwater, or transfer water from other areas. 

Drought status would also allow farmers to use crop insurance. Federal and state drought assistance programs could also become available with the governor’s emergency declaration.

As of Wednesday, current snowpack (snow-water content) in the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basin is at 34% of average for this time of year and precipitation is at 77% of average, according to the USDA SNOTEL system

The most recent drought declared by Brown in Deschutes County was in April 2015.

Last month, Brown declared Coos County in a state of drought, following earlier ones for Klamath, Jackson and Curry counties.

On Wednesday, Colin Wills, district manager for the Arnold Irrigation District, said declaring the county in a state of drought would allow farmers to be reimbursed for the loss of crops. 

Wills said he believes the Arnold and North Unit irrigation districts would be impacted the most by a possible drought.

He said Crane Prairie Reservoir only carries about 6,000 acre-feet of water storage, and if it runs out, irrigators would have to retrieve water from natural resources.

NewsChannel 21 also spoke with Shon Rae, deputy managing director for the Central Oregon Irrigation District.

“It comes down to live flow, so Central Oregon Irrigation typically would be able to draw their normal amount of water,” Rae said. “But in light of trying to conserve and leave as much water as we can in the river for our junior users, we’re taking some additional measures to really operate our system as efficiently and as tightly as possible.”

She said those measures include sprinkler, nozzle, and gasket programs to help people with water conservation on farms.

“Our system is stream-fed, and those streams and springs are really starting not to produce what they used to, so we’re just seeing really low water levels,” Rae said.

Rae said each irrigation district would be affected differently by a possible drought. 

The Deschutes County commissioners took no action Wednesday and said they will revisit the declaration on their agenda at a later date.

Central Oregon / Government-politics / News / Top Stories / Weather

Rhea Panela

Rhea Panela is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Rhea here.

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