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Deschutes County commissioners to ask Gov. Brown for drought status declaration

(Update: Adding video, comment from rancher, Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, DBBC President)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Deschutes County commissioners agreed Wednesday to ask Gov. Kate Brown to declare a drought emergency for the county, for a second year.

That should be good news to ranchers and farmers who have already had to cut back on water usage.

"We got to get it while we can," Rob Rastovich, owner of Barley Beef and the Rastovich family ranch, told NewsChannel 21.

He was tending to some of his 200 acres, 50 of which are irrigated, on his ranch east of Bend.

But already this year, water shortages have forced Rastovich to let 15 of those acres go fallow.

"We are anticipating, based on the river levels, the snow melt, how much water we can take out of the reservoir, we're anticipating having water through the end of June, maybe the end of July if we're really lucky," Rastovich said.

Rastovich, an Arnold Irrigation District board member, already had his water turned off early last year.

"Really, the drought started back in 2019, and the water year of 2020 we had a drought -- and this is our second year in a row," he said.

Typical rainfall for this point of the year in Bend is about 4.69 inches. So far, the city has only received 3.09 inches.

Deschutes County sheriff’s Sgt. and Emergency Manager Nathan Garibay said, "The community already knows that it's dry, that our snowpack is dwindling."

Craig Horrell, president of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, added, "We looked at snowpack that was 100 percent in April that quickly diminished to 48 percent in less than a month."

Amid the driest spring in over a century, the Central Oregon Irrigation District is telling customers, "While we have no restrictions at this time, you should be prepared for a reduction in water. We recommend you begin planning now for potential water supply shortages this summer."

Less water means less hay, which means fewer livestock Rastovich can keep on the ranch.

Now as county commissioners asking the governor to declare a drought emergency for the second year in a row, Horrell it does a lot to help.

"It puts us into a mode of, 'pass the water on if you can't use it,'" he said.

But there are some legal obstacles to clear.

"Moving water between the (irrigation) districts gets complicated," he said.

So much so that Rastovich said there could be some good from the drought, if sharing water becomes easier.

The resolution will also be amended to encourage water irrigators to share water, especially to the North Unit Irrigation District in Jefferson County, where commissioners have already requested a state drought declaration, which can provide more assistance to affected farmers, ranchers and other water users.

Brown in late March declared a drought in Klamath County, one of the worst-hit areas during a spring that officials say has been the driest in over a century across much of the West.

SNOTEL telemetry reports say the Upper Deschutes/Crooked River Basin is more than 20 percent below average precipitation for the year -- and the vital snow-water content is at just 48 percent of the median for this time of year.

Article Topic Follows: Deschutes County

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Jack Hirsh

Jack Hirsh is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jack here.


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