Hood River County considers drought declaration June 24

A record drought has marred most of Oregon, prompting Gov. Kate Brown to declare a state of emergency in 19 counties so far.

Hood River County could be next on the list.

The Hood River County Board of Commissioners will meet Wednesday to consider making a formal drought declaration to the state. The public meeting will be held at 10 a.m. at West Side Fire District’s Rockford Station at 4250 Barrett Drive, and will invite local leaders in water management, forestry and fire.

The goal of a drought declaration would be to increase flexibility managing local water supplies, and to qualify the county for state and federal emergency relief funds, said Hood River County Administrator Dave Meriwether.

“We would send (the declaration) to the governor and the director of Oregon Emergency Management for consideration by the drought council,” said Meriwether.

If the state council agreed that Hood River County is facing a drought emergency, the case would go to Gov. Brown’s desk for executive action.

The Hood River is running at 40 percent below its normal level, and Mount Hood bears a discomforting 14 inches of snow water at the National Resources Conservation Service site on its south side, compared to 48 inches during an average year.

“We know the snowpack was a record low … It’s been so dry, it’s time to give that serious thought,” said Meriwether.

Local irrigation districts and watershed groups have urged homeowners and agriculturists to reduce their water use by at least 25 percent — but John Buckley, East Fork Irrigation District manager, said customers have only reduced their use by 10 percent thus far.

Buckley said those most affected by the low flows and poor snowpack are farmers, fire departments and wildlife.

“We’re not as bad as California, by (any) means, but we have concerns. You’ve got fish, you’ve got farming and you’ve got fire. As far as domestic water, I think we’re okay,” said Buckley.

West Side Fire Marshal Jim Trammel characterized current conditions as “dry” and windy. He said the department draws from the domestic water supply, so low snowpack levels don’t affect them the same way as the river irrigation districts. There are 170 hydrants in the West Side district, a 25-square-mile patch with 3,000 residences.

The first portion of Wednesday’s special meeting will be conducted by the board of commissioners and will focus on the drought resolution, but the rest of the session will be a more free-form discussion held by local irrigation district leaders.

This portion of the meeting is a new tradition spearheaded by Buckley, who hopes the response group will meet monthly through the summer, sun setting in October.

According to Cindy Thieman, watershed coordinator for the Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District, the last time a drought response team met on a monthly basis in Hood River County was in 2005, one of the worst droughts in the last 30 years.

Invited to the meeting are key stakeholders including irrigation managers, leaders in the forest service and fire departments and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Members of the public are also invited.

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