Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order declaring a state of drought emergency in Jefferson and Deschutes counties due to lack of precipitation and unusually low snowpack and streamflow.
A second declaration, both issued June 8, includes Crook, Harney, Malheur, Sherman and Wallowa counties. They join Lake, Jackson and Klamath counties, which received drought designation earlier this spring.
Pamplin Media Group and its news partners take an in depth look at Oregon's fire season for 2021. Readers can find all of the stories, and a column from the state fire marshal, online at PortlandTribune.com.
The declaration reads, "Extreme conditions are expected to affect local growers, increase the potential for fire, shorten the growing season, and decrease water supplies."
"Farmers live in constant fear," said Jefferson County Commissioner Kelly Simmelink. "Some have told me they're terrified, and I don't know what the hell to do for them."
At Simmelink's prompting, Jefferson County Commissioners voted Wednesday, June 9, to grant the North Unit Irrigation District $10,000 from the county's disaster fund for water marketing to encourage sharing of resources between basin partners.
"Agriculture is the backbone of this county," Simmelink said, "and the economic ramifications are of the utmost importance."
Jefferson County has junior water rights, which means all other irrigation districts in the Deschutes Basin get their water needs supplied first, even though a higher percentage of water users in the North Unit Irrigation District are farmers who rely on water for their livelihood.
"I am encouraged to hear," Brown continues, "that local irrigators in these two counties are working together to seek creative solutions around sharing available water."
By declaring the emergency, the governor directs the Oregon Department of Agriculture to seek federal resources to mitigate drought conditions and assist agricultural recovering in Deschutes and Jefferson counties.
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