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COUNTY PONDERS DROUGHT DISASTER

GOLD BEACH The water situation on the South Coast has not improved much, in spite of average rainfall in June, Lloyd Van Gordon, state watermaster for Coos and Curry Counties said Monday.

The news may push the Curry County Commissioners closer to declaring a drought disaster.

Van Gordon told members of the Curry County Emergency Water and Energy Conservation Task Force that June was better than any other month for rainfall.

He said that meant average rainfall in Curry County, and one inch above average in Coos County.

He said enough rain fell to bring the flow of the Chetco River up to normal for three days.

Just before the June rains started, said Van Gordon, it was flowing at 217 cubic feet a second (cfs), or about 50 percent of normal. He said the flow was 60 percent of the mean average Friday.

It indicates to me that nothing has improved significantly.

He said the Chetco watershed is still one of the worst in the state for available groundwater, though the Rogue-Umpqua and Willamette watersheds are worse.

That means the South Coast still shows up as being in a severe condition on drought maps, though that was recently downgraded to an even worse extreme drought rating.

Van Gordon said the total rainfall in North Bend is three inches behind the worst drought year on record.

The flow in the Chetco sank to a low of 50-70 cfs last year, he said, but predicted only half that flow at the low point this year.

He said everything could change with significant rainfall, but warned that the July average is only one inch.

The drought, he said, would have major impacts on wells. He said hed received a lot of calls from people with dry wells, including five on Monday alone.

He said dry wells on the South Coast are not unusual later in the year. This early, however, is a real concern, he said.

Van Gordon also predicted in-stream rights wouldnt be met and would have to be regulated, and the cranberry harvest could be difficult.

Curry County Commissioner Lucie La Bont organized the task force. She said Leo Lightle, community development director for the City of Brookings, said Jacks Creek and the north fork of the Chetco are doing fine.

What are they comparing it to? said Van Gordon. Does it satisfy the needs of everyone who has water rights, or just their (the citys) needs?

He said the flow in Jacks Creek was 9.55 cfs on June 1, but had fallen to 4.45 by June 19. He said that is half the flow needed to satisfy all in-stream rights.

Van Gordon said he didnt expect low water in the rivers to cause problems in June. My concern is the end of July, and August and September. We do have enough water right now. My concern is in three months we wont have enough water.

He said in-stream rights are important, and the Oregon Water Resources Department will regulate for the senior rights. He said he has to be concerned that every right has water.

I think were not doing better than has been forecast, said Van Gordon, and the long-term forecast is for less than normal rain.

He said Jackson and Josephine counties have now followed Douglas County in declaring drought disasters.

Peter Aspinwall, from the Lower Rogue Watershed Council, said there is enough water in the Rogue River now to supply Gold Beach. He suggested targeting residents out in the county for conservation.

He said small creeks save salmon when the Rogue heats up. He wondered if people are drawing water from those creeks.

Van Gordon said he hadnt driven many of the creeks, but had looked into Cedar Creek and had found no obvious misuse. He said almost everyone taking water had permits.

In Coos County, however, he said hed spent an inordinate amount of time on complaints about misuse of creeks.

Van Gordon said his department has taken a voluntary compliance stance. People who run out of water and have no other source are allowed to take it out of streams for domestic use, but not for things like watering gardens.

He said streams are often the only source because ground water is limited in Curry County and drilling another well wouldnt help.

The task force reviewed the final draft of an energy-saving tips pamphlet it will publish. The pamphlet was prepared by Curry County Emergency Services Coordinator Mike Murphy.

Members of the task force would like to have the pamphlets inserted into billings from Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative, and make them available to citizens at the county courthouse and all city halls.

La Bont and Don Jensen of Coos-Curry will look for the funds needed to print 15,000 copies of the pamphlet.

La Bont said the pamphlet couldnt call the drought a crisis, because it hadnt been declared yet.

Murphy said the tips in the pamphlet could help people avoid a crisis, however.

Van Gordon said he doesnt have much faith in long-term forecasts, though they accurately predicted what would happen up to July 1.

The forecasts, he said, all indicate the drought wont end in September, but will go through the end of the year.

The drought forecast is not likely to get better soon, he said.

La Bont and Van Gordon attended a meeting with five counties and found water management was the main issue. She said water conservation workshops may be set up in all five counties.

She also said the Brookings City Council passed a resolution urging the voluntary conservation of water. The county commissioners will consider a similar resolution Monday.

Port Orford has developed a model resolution which may go beyond voluntary conservation, if necessary.

Van Gordon said Brookings took the first step in the process by declaring the problem and asking for voluntary conservation.

La Bont said, It sounds like a drought declaration is coming closer, and asked if anyone on the task force had concerns about declaring a drought disaster.

Van Gordon said hes researched the issue and cant find any down-side to a drought declaration.

He said the government wont come in and force anyone to do anything. A declaration would simply give the county access to loans and help.

He said cities like Port Orford have received loans in drought times to upgrade their water systems.

La Bont said she will contact the cities and put a drought declaration on the agenda to be discussed by the commissioners on July 23.

We have to be concerned about people in outlying areas, she said.

A drought declaration from the governor for Curry County, said Van Gordon, would allow his department to approve emergency water transfers between parties that agree. He also said money might be made available.

There are some real positive things about it, he said.

We really need to look at it, said La Bont, citing agricultural needs.

Van Gordon said Josephine County, which dried out earlier because it survives on snowmelt, followed what other counties had done when it wrote its declaration.

Are we ready for a declaration yet? said La Bont.

Aspinwall said it needed to be done to make people aware of the problem.

Murphy said, But a disaster declaration says we have a problem right now, and we dont.

But you do, said Van Gordon. He warned that relief funds wouldnt be available immediately.

Aspinwall said the county is using reserves that wont be replenished. A declaration now could help. Get people on board early. You want to start saving now.

Van Gordon suggested the commissioners ask counties that have already declared, and the governors office, for guidance.

I believe were in a drought, he said. Indications are it will not get better in the short term. Other counties have economic impacts already. We dont yet.

La Bont wondered if the commissioners should wait until their Aug. 6 meeting.

There will be no question by August, said Van Gordon. You should be prepared to make a declaration by then.

He admitted, however, that a lot of people are still saying there is no problem.

La Bont said there was a consensus of task force members that the commissioners should move forward and prepare to make the declaration.

The task force will meet again at 1 p.m. July 19 in the commissioners hearing room in the courthouse annex.

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