COUNTY OFFICIALS NOT READY TO DECLARE DROUGHT YET

August 14, 2001 11:00 pm

By WILLIAM LUNDQUIST

GOLD BEACH County officials are still in a holding pattern about declaring a drought disaster, but there are some hopeful signs.

The Curry County Emergency Water and Energy Conservation Task Force learned Thursday that the demand for water in Harbor is way down this year.

We havent even started the second pump yet, said Larry Loveless of the Harbor Water District.

He said the second pump usually comes on automatically around the end of June when people start watering their lawns and gardens.

Because of the cool, foggy weather, and hopefully some conservation, said Loveless, the second pump may not be needed this year at all.

Patty Clark, the utilities clerk for the City of Port Orford, said their pump station is not having to work as hard, thanks to conservation.

She said the city wrote letters to some of its largest water consumers and convinced them to voluntarily cut back. The schools, for example, reduced sprinkling.

Water levels went up a little bit, said Clark. She said people were either listening to the rules or were on vacation.

Though consumption is down, stream flows continue to drop.

State Watermaster Lloyd Van Gordon, who usually updates the task force on the status of streams, could not attend Thursdays meeting.

Task force Chair Lucie La Bont spoke with Van Gordon and said river flows in Curry County are still dropping, but present no big problem yet.

Were still in a holding pattern, said La Bont.

She handed out flow readings that showed the Chetco River, just above the confluence with its north fork, measured 217 cubic feet per second (cfs) on June 26.

The readings dropped to 174 cfs by July 9 and 134 by July 23. Van Gordon took a reading of 111 on Aug. 3.

He said then that 80 cfs is the number he keys into for regulation, a number he expected to reach in two weeks, unless it rained.

La Bont said 17 Oregon counties have declared drought disasters now, with Deschutes being the most recent.

She said the task force would meet again at the end of August to assess the situation and decide whether to keep the task force going or not.

She said the county commissioners are still holding off on declaring a drought disaster.

Curry County Emergency Services Coordinator Mike Murphy said because adjacent counties have declared drought disasters, federal aid would be available to agriculture in Curry County.

He said there could be other federal assistance, but specific needs or losses would have to be documented. He said a drought declaration would help the watermaster regulate.

Murphy said the conservation brochure published by the task force has been well-received. He said state parks in Curry County wanted some copies for tourists to take and use at home.

Watershed Extension Agent Frank Burris said the extension office could also use some copies.

La Bont said since the cities and Harbor Water District each contributed $176 to publish the brochure, the 500 extras should go to them.

Most of the brochures were inserted into Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative billings, and La Bont thanked the co-op for helping.

Hydrologist Steve Donovan wondered if development standards in Curry County encouraged new conservation methods like gray-water systems or more water-efficient washing machines.

La Bont said the county budget is so tight that it couldnt afford to pay rebates for more efficient home devices.

Murphy said, There is new technology out there that can assist with conservation. He said panelized walls have incredible insulation values.

We need to update the building codes, he said. Get out of that box and allow new things to come in.

He said builders say they can do things in Coos County that arent allowed in Curry County.

La Bont said that may be due to higher winds in Curry County. She said because of the winds, building codes are different inland.

There was good news on the electric front too. Don Jensen, of Coos-Curry Electric, said his company will maintain its current rates through the winter and wont look at changing them until the spring.

He said Coos-Curry could be the only utility in the Northwest that is not raising its rates now.

We may end up the lowest cost utility anywhere, he said, and thats due to good decisions by our board in the past.

He said Coos-Curry would actually be subsidizing electric rates for all its customers this winter.

Murphy asked if Coos-Curry had a commitment to cut demand.

No, said Jensen, but we would like to see reductions.

Back on the water front, Brookings City Manager Leroy Blodgett said, Were holding our own.

He said the citys water management plan is done, and will soon go to the council. Were still exploring other water sources.

Murphy said, We need to keep conservation in the forefront until it becomes a habit. We need long-term, sustainable, permanent changes.

People do forget, said La Bont.

Tresa Johnson of Gold Beach said, I still see people wasting water on their gardens at the wrong time of day. There is big water waste during the day.

Watershed council member Peter Aspinwall said, Groundwater conservation is the key. There is no definable water table in Curry County, just small, local hanging water tables.

Burris said the extension office at the fairgrounds has been giving out water conservation pamphlets on how to water lawns or wash cars effectively.

La Bont suggested urging water conservation on radio public service announcements.

The task force will meet again at 1 p.m. Aug. 30 in the commissioners hearing room in Gold Beach.