The decision was made because of current water conditions, future forecasts, and agricultural impacts

Within a month of Crook County’s request for drought relief, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber declared a drought emergency, allowing the county increased flexibility in how water supplies are managed and to ensure that limited supplies are used as efficiently as possible.

In a letter dated February 19, the Crook County Court, in its request, stated that “Crook County agricultural and livestock industries, and related economy are suffering widespread and severe economic damage, potential injuries and loss of property resulting from extreme weather conditions within the county.”

Upon review of the county’s request, the State Drought Council, at its March 10 meeting, approved the request after weighing current water conditions, future climatic forecasts, and agricultural impacts.

Kitzhaber agreed with the recommendation.

"Dry conditions in Crook County threaten to result in substantial curtailments of water deliveries to agricultural users and low stream flows later this year," said Governor Kitzhaber. "We are working at the local, state, and federal levels to reduce threats to agriculture, recreation, and natural resources in the county."

For Ochoco Irrigation District Manager Mike Kasberger, current conditions are looking to have a serious impact on initial water allocations, set to begin between April 1 and 15.

“The Irrigation Board has decided that water allocations will begin in a limited capacity,” he said, explaining that normal irrigation allocations are typically set at a maximum of four acre feet of water.

“The Irrigation Board has set initial allocations at two acre feet,” he said. “We will need to make do with half of what we have in the past.”

A press release from Crook County Emergency Manager Michael Ryan states that the Ochoco Reservoir is at 60 percent of capacity, while the Prineville Reservoir measures 94 percent.

“While these reservoirs are close to capacity now, the snow pack that normally keeps the water levels higher during the summer months is not there and water levels will begin to drop lower than normal as irrigation water is drawn to support the West county areas,” said Ryan. “East Crook County has no sizable water holding and, once the snow melts in those areas, the creeks and streams will drop to record low flows.”

Mike McCabe, Judge of the Crook County Court, said that the state’s declaration allows local farmers to be eligible for state programs from the Department of Agriculture, Water Resources, and the Office of Emergency Management, in the event of crop loss.

Although admitting that local reservoirs are looking much better than earlier in the year, McCabe asks residents to work with the district to ensure that everyone gets their fair share.

From Kasberger’s point of view, the Ochoco Meadows Snowtel monitor tells him that contributions to the reservoirs from snowpack are done for the year.

“This weekend, the snowpack at that site went to zero,” he said. “It all depends now on what the spring rains bring us.”

“We will get through this, again,” added McCabe. “But, we still need a lot more moisture. In the Ocohoco Reservoir, the fish are still wearing sun block.”

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