KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — With another dry year increasingly likely in the Klamath Basin, stakeholders in the area say that Governor Kate Brown has issued a drought declaration to free up state resources to help.
The news comes from the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA), a group representing farmers and other businesses that rely on the Basin's waterways for their livelihoods.
“We are very grateful to the Governor for her swift action to get in front of a very difficult situation,” said KWUA President Tricia Hill. “The action by the Governor and her team will create important opportunities to lessen the impact of a water year that is going the wrong direction."
An official drought declaration directs state agencies to help soften the blow of a drought on affected communities. KWUA says that it will help growers who have invested in groundwater wells get better access to that resource, while obligating Oregon agencies to coordinate with the federal government for help.
"Drought conditions arrived early and have persisted, including reduced snowpack, precipitation, and minimal streamflow," the Governor's declaration reads. "The long-term forecast for the region continues for warmer than normal temperatures and lower than normal precipitation. These conditions have had a significant economic impact on the agriculture and livestock industries in Klamath County."
Klamath County last experienced a drought emergency in 2018. Lawmakers eventually secured millions in relief funds for those affected.
KWUA and Klamath Irrigation District board member Jerry Enman said that the Klamath County Commissioners had requested the declaration from the Governor in a letter dated February 25, 2020.
“The County Commission, as well as the Supervisors in Modoc and Siskiyou, have been on top of this and are working hard to protect the agricultural community,” Enman said.
The Klamath River and Upper Klamath Lake have long been a battleground between those represented by the KWUA and local tribes, the latter of which have fought to preserve water levels in an effort to rehabilitate salmon populations. During drought years, the water levels mandated to help fish often mean that farmers are left without a significant source of water for irrigation.
KWUA and the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency plan to host a public meeting on March 5, 2020, at 1:00 p.m. at the Klamath County Fairgrounds, Building #2, "to update growers on water supply conditions and resources that may be available to help get through a difficult year." Representatives from state and federal agencies will also be in attendance, KWUA said.