Gov. John Kitzhaber has signed a drought emergency declaration sought by Crook County, paving the way for state assistance after a winter that saw little snow, making for a tough water year ahead for farmers and others, officials said.

Thursday's signing by the governor follows a review by the state Water Availability Committee and the state Drought Council meeting on March 10th. Both groups reviewed the request by Crook County and unanimously agreed with the request, forwarding it on to the governor's office.

The drought council weighed current water conditions, future climatic forecasts, and agricultural impacts.

Earlier this year, Kitzhaber declared drought emergencies in Klamath, Lake, Malheur and Harney counties, making Crook County the fifth in the state with such a declaration. "Dry conditions in Crook County threaten to result in substantial curtailments of water deliveries to agricultural users and low streamflows later this year," said Kitzhaber. "We are working at the local, state, and federal levels to reduce threats to agriculture, recreation and natural resources in the county."?

The drought declaration allows increased flexibility in how water is managed to ensure that limited supplies are used as efficiently as possible.

In addition, the governor is working with Oregon's federal delegation, state agencies, local governments, and other partners to coordinate efforts and mobilize actions to address drought-related issues.

The governor's order will pave the way for Oregon's departments of Agriculture, Water Resources, Emergency Management and other agencies to coordinate and provide state resources to assist Crook County, said county Emergency Manager Michael Ryan.

Current snow measurements as of Friday morning at the Ochoco Meadows Snowtel site, located at 5,430 feet elevation, had just five inches of snow, with a snow water equivalent of 1.7 inches, Ryan said.

Ochoco Reservoir was at 60 percent, while Prineville Reservoir was at 94 percent.

"While these reservoirs are close to capacity now, the snowpack that normally keeps the water levels higher during the summer months is not there, and water levels will begin to drop lower than normal as irrigation water is drawn to support the west county areas," Ryan said in a news release.

Eastern Crook County, meanwhile, "has no sizable water holding, and once the snow melts in those areas, the creeks and streams will drop to record low flows," the emergency official added.

"East county irrigation is expected to see an early start and will not see sufficient water levels as we roll into summer," Ryan saod.

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