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Gov. Kate Brown declared a State of Drought Emergency in Crook County and several other counties

JASON CHANEY - Ochoco Reservoir is much lower than average this summer.

Anticipated dry conditions this summer following a low winter snowpack has prompted Gov. Kate Brown to declare a State of Drought Emergency in Crook County and several other counties.

"Forecasted water supply conditions are not expected to improve and drought is likely to have significant economic impacts on the farm, forest, recreation, drinking water and natural resources sectors as well as impacts on fish and wildlife and other natural resources which are dependent on adequate precipitation and stream flows in these areas," the governor's order reads. "Extreme conditions have already affected local growers and increased the potential for fire, a lost of economic stability, shortened growing season and decreased water supplies."

The order tells the state Department of Agriculture to seek federal resources. It also directs the Oregon Water Resources Department and the Water Resources Commission "to coordinate and prove assistance to water users" in the affected counties.

The Water Resources Department must also consult with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on impacts of water availability on fish and wildlife.

The Office of Emergency Management will help with "assessment and mitigation activities to address current and projected conditions ..."

Other state agencies are required to help, as well.

Jefferson, Deschutes, Wasco, Douglas, Gilliam and Josephine counties are also included in the drought declaration, which is effective through the rest of this calendar year.

Locally, the year began with some reason for optimism. Ochoco Irrigation District Manager Bruce Scanlon said that the mountain snowpack in January and February suggested that Crook County would enjoy an average water year.

But the anticipated runoff that typically follows an average snowpack failed to materialize.

"Normally, we get some really good runoffs during April, but this year because of the unusually warm and dry conditions, the runoff just basically disappeared into the ground," Scanlon said. "So, our projected infills were not what we would consider close to average."

In April, the Ochoco Irrigation District Board set the allocation at 2.5 acre-feet of water per acre, which is slightly lower than the district's normal of 3 acre-feet. Coupled with that change, district leaders are encouraging patrons to do their part in conserving water in a variety of ways.

"We need them to help by calling their water on and off," Scanlon said. "We are a call system and when patrons call their water on, we deliver that water to them. If somebody turns on without a call for that water, they are taking somebody else's water and we end up with other people down the line who get shorted. If they turn off water and they didn't call it off, then that water is going to end up in the stream. It doesn't go back into the reservoir."

Patrons are also encouraged to repair leaky gaskets and pipes and replace worn nozzles.

"Every little bit is going to make a significant impact going forward," Scanlon said, "because if we have another repeat of this year, we will be in a really tight spot next year."

Meanwhile, the drought conditions are expected to result in more wildfires.

"We expect to have an above normal potential for significant wildfires to start and spread throughout most of our state and much of the Northwest," said Jeff Kitchens, acting manager of the Prineville Bureau of Land Management District. "Warmer temperatures than average and lower precipitation are expected to persist through the end of August at least."

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