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Jackson County board of commissioners request drought declaration from governor

A dry field in Modoc Point Irrigation District with Mt. McLoughlin in the distance in 2022.
Alex Schwartz
A dry field in Modoc Point Irrigation District with Mt. McLoughlin in the distance in 2022.

On Wednesday, Jackson County commissioners voted to request a drought declaration from Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek. Despite average precipitation and above average snowpack, the county is still considered to be in moderate drought.

“Prior water years have been so horrible that we still haven’t made enough progress to remove ourselves from being in drought conditions,” said Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan.

County commissioners voted unanimously to submit a request for a drought declaration to the governor.

During a May 9 meeting, Jackson County Watermaster Shavon Haynes told commissioners that one good water year like 2023 won’t get the county out of several consecutive years of drought.

“I kind of think about it as, if I don’t work for four years, and then I finally get a good paying job for one year, it’s not really going to get me through what I endured those four years,” Haynes said.

Jackson County is also bracing for possible competition over water in Fourmile Lake, a Klamath County reservoir that flows into Upper Klamath Lake. Water in Fourmile Lake is used by the Medford and Rogue Valley irrigation districts.

In early March, the Klamath Tribes submitted a “call for water” in Fourmile Lake, essentially reserving it to meet elevation levels in Upper Klamath Lake that are established to protect endangered sucker fish habitat. The tribes hold senior water rights. The two Rogue Valley irrigation districts historically use 6,000 acre-feet of water per year from Fourmile Lake, Jordan said, but they may only receive a third of that this year.

According to Jordan, a governor’s drought declaration would allow the Oregon Water Resources Department to issue temporary permits, water transfers, instream leases and otherwise be flexible in how it apportions water this summer.

If approved by Gov. Kotek, Jackson would join eight other counties mainly in Central and southeastern Oregon to receive drought declarations so far this year.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.