When it comes to water, Oregon’s cranberry capital is in trouble. So far, Curry County is at 60% of average rainfall, and the Chetco River is 60% below the record low set back in 1992.
Curry is not alone in acknowledging a water crisis. According to the United States Drought Monitor created by several federal agencies -the entire Western United States is in a critical state of drought.
90 percent of the West which includes Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Montana are in drought. Conditions are considered “severe” or “exceptional."
And the demand for water continues to increase as the population increases, even in traditionally rural counties like Curry, which has grown by roughly 3% over the last decade, according to census data.
That’s a wallop to the agricultural producers of Curry County. There are 197 of them and among the top growers are cranberry producers who account for 99% of all cranberries grown in Oregon.
But agriculture isn’t the only thing hurting- drinking water supplies are affected in Port Orford where there’s no back up water source to shrinking Hubbard Creek and the city loses 40% of its water due to an aging transmission system.
To deal with this, the Curry County Board of Commissioners declared a drought emergency at its Wednesday meeting. They acknowledged as a group that Curry County doesn’t have the resources to deal with the situation - a move made by several other Oregon counties including Deschutes, Jefferson, Crook, Harney, Malheur, Sherman, Wallowa and Klamath.
The declaration triggers a request to Oregon Governor Kate Brown who can, if she wishes, issue an executive order which directs the state’s Department of Agriculture to seek federal aid.
The first step is to do what the board of commissioners did Wednesday. With agricultural producers creating a $33 million industry - a lot in Curry County rides on water resources and a continued drought could create dire circumstances not only to its chief industry, but also to its residents.
In addition, the emergency declaration discusses the extreme risk of wildfire as a result of water shortages which it describes as “inevitable in 2022.”
The emergency declaration vote was two in favor and one opposed, with Chris Paasch voting no. Paasch argued that a hard rain in June combined with what he believes will be a wetter winter may prevent the declaration from being necessary. He suggested that it would be better “to wait and see how things look in the spring.”
But the rest of the commissioners felt it would be best to get on the record now and in line for whatever help may become available, given that a spreading drought will create demand on aid dollars.
99.3% of Oregon is considered to be in “severe drought” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which means fire risk increases, marshes dry up, little water is available for waterfowl and wildlife and bears move into the urban interfaces. Pastures are brown; hay yields are down, and prices are up; producers are selling cattle.
More than 76% of Oregon is in “extreme drought” which has the same features as severe drought but also includes extremely low reservoirs and irrigation water scarcity. Curry County has seven and a half fewer inches of water than normal and is the driest it’s been in 127 years.
100% of people in Curry County are affected by drought, according to the Atmospheric Administration.