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Crook County still facing drought woes

By Katie Higgins
Published On: Feb 26 2014 09:07:21 PM CST

NewsChannel 21's Katie Higgins found out why Crook County filed for drought and how bad it really is.

PRINEVILLE, Ore. -

The Crook County Court recently adopted a declaration of local disaster because of drought in the area -- a situation that recent snow and rain has done little to alleviate.

Even after recent snowfall, water levels are not where they need to be. Ochoco Reservoir might look full, but it is not. In fact, it has only 36 percent of its maximum water load right now. The second reservoir that serves the Crook County community, Prineville Reservoir, is two-thirds full. 

Ochoco Reservoir "needs 50 to 60 more feet of water to fill up," Michael Ryan, the county's emergency manager, said Wednesday. 

There is a clear vegetation line well above the water where the water level should be.

When filing with the state for the drought declaration, officials had to look at the likelihood of future precipitation.

"The (National) Weather Service is not predicting a lot of snowfall this spring," Ryan said.

Crook County needs 240 percent of normal precipitation to make up for water lost. Officials say that is very unlikely.

The order filed by the county will make its way up the government ladder.

"That will go to the state, and the governor will sign a drought declaration," said Deschutes Basin Watermaster Jeremy Giffin.

If that happens, Crook County will become the fifth county in Oregon to declare drought. That means the state can step in to help.

"Like our agency, our role would be to offer emergency drought permits," Giffin said.

That means that anyone who relies on a stream or water source on their property that's dried out can apply to pump ground water to help.

"It's the agriculture that's the problem," Ryan said.

The ripple effect could spread farther than agriculture, though. The summer will most likely be dry and has the chance of increased wildfire threat. Water sports and tourism could take a hit.

"Normally, you depend on that late spring, early summer water from when that big snowpack melts off," Ryan said.

This year, that snowpack just isn't there.

"There's no way to catch up is what we're saying," Ryan said.

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