County declares drought emergency

By Baker City Herald June 05, 2013 09:53 am

By Jayson Jacoby

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The Baker County Board of Commissioners declared a local drought disaster Wednesday morning.

The resolution calls on Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and federal officials to follow suit and to make state and federal aid available to the county, where rainfall for 2013 is about 25 percent below average.

“I think we’re going to meet the threshold (for a state disaster declaration), and it has the potential to get worse,” said Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

“But I hope now that we’ve passed this resolution it’ll rain for a month.”

Not likely, according to the National Weather Service, which is forecasting summer-like conditions through Monday, with temperatures in the 80s and mainly sunny skies.

Cooler weather, with a chance of thunderstorms, is predicted starting next Wednesday.

County commissioners also approved drought declarations in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

The resolution commissioners approved Wednesday cites both low water levels in local reservoirs, as well as the hard freeze on April 18 that damaged peaches, apricots, apples and pears at the Eagle Creek Orchard near Richland.

Phillips Reservoir, on the Powder River about 15 miles southwest of Baker City, was barely half full in the first week of June, holding about 39,000 acre-feet of water.

(One acre-foot of water would cover 1 acre of flat ground to a depth of 1 foot).

That’s the lowest level for the reservoir, at that time, since 2004, when Phillips held 35,597 acre-feet.

Phillips Reservoir supplies irrigation water to about 30,000 acres, mainly in Baker Valley.

Jerry Franke, who manages the Burnt River Irrigation District in southern Baker County, said Unity Reservoir probably will run out of water for irrigation by mid-August.

Franke said 2013 is on track to be the worst year, in terms of irrigation water supply in his district, since 1991.