Crook County is declaring a drought emergency in the middle of winter. Despite near normal snowpack in the Ochocos, streamflows and reservoir storage levels are at record lows due to persistent drought conditions.
Crook County officials are seeking a drought declaration, possibly the earliest on record, because of record low levels in reservoirs and streams that should be refilling them at this time.
Prineville Reservoir sits at just 11% capacity. Ochoco Reservoir is at 10% of capacity.
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The low water levels means less water for farmers who will grow less crops and make less money.
On Thursday, the Crook County Court declared a drought emergency for the fourth consecutive year due to widespread and severe economic damage to the agriculture and livestock industries, as well as recreation and related economies.
“Today, even though it’s been raining, there’s one group of cattle I had to haul water to them for drinking water because the springs haven’t returned yet,” said Wade Flegel, Crook County farmer.
The U.S. Drought Monitor confirms what the locals are saying: All of Crook County is and has been in extreme or exceptional drought for the past three years.
Unless the atmospheric river pummeling California shifts north, Crook County likely will remain in drought even with normal winter precipitation.
“We live in a desert. Sometimes there’s water. Sometimes not. When we don’t have it we need to make sure we make those declarations to take care of our farmers, our ranchers and our domestic water users,” said Seth Crawford, Crook County Judge. “We have a lot of citizens out there on wells.”
The drought declaration, when accepted by the state, gives Crook County residents access to loans and grants to help compensate for losses due to drought conditions.