ANYON CITY – The Grant County Court may declare a drought in the county next week, following the lead of counties that have made similar declarations across a broad swath of the state this winter.

The action comes as springlike weather continues across the county, and snowpacks – buoyed briefly by a couple of storms in early February – continue to lag behind historic averages for the area.

While the county may not be in as dire straits as those in Southwestern Oregon, the “D” word still applies, officials say.

Eric Julsrud, Grant County watermaster, told the Court last week all of the counties to south of Grant and in southwest part of the state either have declared a drought or are in the process of doing so.

“Their conditions are pretty dire,” he said.

Julsrud provided the latest update from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency was projecting a drought ranked D1, moderate, to D4, exceptional, but has revised its forecast to D1-D2, moderate to severe, he said. Those levels raises the specter of problems this summer and fall for ranchers, farmers and other water users.

The agency also analyzes the “drought tendency,” showing the trends that go beyond short-term events such as individual storms. For most of Eastern Oregon the trend indicates persistent and intensifying drought through June 30.

Julsrud said the Court could adopt a motion to declare a drought, and seek a formal declaration from the governor at the state level. A federal declaration could follow – and would kick in automatically if the drought conditions persist over eight weeks in the normal growing season, he said.

A declaration would open up avenues of aid and federal assistance programs for ranchers and water right users, and allow for some emergency measures to adjust how water is allocated.

With the forecast for continuing dry weather, Commissioner Boyd Britton suggested “there’s no downside” to declaring a drought now, rather than waiting until later in the season. Julsrud said that was correct.

Commissioner Chris Labhart volunteered to seek a copy of a drought resolution from another county, such as Jackson in Southern Oregon, to avoid “re-inventing the wheel.”

He said he would get back to the Court with a template to consider. The discussion is expected to continue at the April 2 Court meeting.

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