Drought might have seemed the least relevant topic on Wednesday night, when wind gusts battered Baker City with sheets of rain that seemed nearly tropical in volume.

But a downpour of less than one hour’s duration can hardly compensate for months of short rainfall rations.

It was with good reason that Baker County commissioners decided on June 6 to ask Gov. Kate Brown to declare a drought emergency for the county.

The governor did so on June 18, making Baker County the sixth of Oregon’s 36 counties dealing with a drought emergency.

Baker County rarely is a comfortably damp distance from a drought — the average annual rainfall at the Baker City Airport is just slightly more than 10 inches.

Since Jan. 1 the total at the airport is 4.75 inches — about 17 percent below average. Go back three more months to Oct. 1, the start of what meteorologists consider the “water year,” and the deficit grows to 26 percent.

And this follows two calendar years that were both drier than average — 2017, with 7 inches; and 2016, with a paltry 6.44 inches, the second-lowest annual total since at least 1943.

Fortunately the deep snowpack from the winter of 2016-17 has helped alleviate some of the potential problems caused by drought. Many irrigation reservoirs went into the past winter with a decent amount of water. As far as municipal supplies, Baker City is well-prepared for a dry summer, with both its storage sources full, one above ground, one below.

Recent rains were a boon to the county’s farmers and ranchers, but only a temporary one. The drought emergency declaration means financial aid and other assistance could be available for such things as hauling water to cattle. County commissioners were wise to request the drought declaration, and we’re glad the governor made it.

From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.

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