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Environment, Energy and Transportation

Little Rain Leaves Most Of Southwest Oregon In Severe Drought

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A map showing drought conditions in Oregon as of May 26. The red areas are considered to be in "extreme drought" and the orange areas are in "severe drought."

Despite a couple of weeks of light rain, Southern Oregon continues to struggle with extreme drought conditions.

Low snowpack, very little rain, and warm temperatures have led to drought emergency declarations in four Oregon counties, including Curry, Coos, Jackson and Klamath counties.

The U.S. Drought Monitor has listed those areas as either being in "severe" or "extreme" drought — meaning they should expect water shortages and restrictions, as well as major crop losses.

County officials are also concerned about what drought could mean for this year’s fire season.

“We’re sitting here with pretty dry conditions,” says Curry County Commissioner Court Boice. “Although the 10 days of off-and-on rains was very welcome, I doubt we will change our drought declaration.”

The Klondike and Chetco Bar fires devastated Curry County in 2017 and 2018, and choked nearby counties with weeks of smoky air.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown has directed state agencies to help Southern Oregon counties plan for a tough wildfire season ahead.

Meanwhile, drought tensions are particularly high in Klamath County, where environmentalists, tribes, ranchers, farmers and businesses have long fought over the best way to use water from the Klamath River.

“Typical years, we fight over water; this year, we’re fighting because there is no water,” says Klamath County Commissioner Derrick DeGroot. “And it’s going to be a tough one.”

Recently the Yurok Tribe of Northern California and environmentalists requested that the Klamath Project release more dam water to help downstream salmon. A U.S. District Court judge denied the motion last week.

Farmers and ranchers say they still plan to hold a water rally on Friday in Merrill. The two-hour tractor convoy will weave through Klamath Project farmlands to show support for water users.