In northeast Oregon’s Union County, the snowpack is so thin that it has completely melted away in measurement sites. Rivers are running lower, spelling bad news for farmers. The wildfire risk is high.
Given these conditions, the county on Wednesday declared a drought emergency and an early start to the fire season.
The conditions in Union County, home to 27,000 people spread out over 2,000 square miles, mirror those in much of the West Coast, where drought is above or near record levels, creating increased wildfire risk and hurting farmers, ranchers and fish species.
County Emergency Manager Nick Vora went before county commissioners to describe a bleak situation.
Snowstorms built snowpack in the mountains to above and near normal levels in February, but since then, "the precipitation spigot essentially shut off,” Vora said. On June 1, snowpack was 0% of normal, with all the measurement sites completely melted off, he added.
"In June, normally things are melting, but not that extreme,” he told the commissioners.
Rivers are also running lower this season, which "is likely to have some fairly significant impacts agriculturally,” he said. County farmers grow wheat, hay, peppermint and other crops.
The commissioners unanimously agreed to Vora's request to declare a drought emergency and, effective June 15, an early start to the fire season.
In southern Oregon, where the fire season has already begun, drought conditions are at historic levels.
In Klamath Falls, where a fight over water rights has been brewing, with right-wing militia supporters threatening to take control of a reservoir's headgates, local officials are urging residents to conserve water.
City spokeswoman Kristina Mainwaring told the Herald and News that the city will soon deploy a public education program to advise residents how to reduce water consumption.
With fires last year having devastated some towns in southwest Oregon, cities in Jackson County are revising emergency operations plans, and several have established new evacuation zones, the Ashland Daily Tidings newspaper reported Wednesday.
In Medford, the county seat, a new interactive map allows residents to identify their zone and print out evacuation routes and checklists in English or Spanish.
Meanwhile, two wildfires continued to burn in Wallowa County, in Oregon’s northeast corner. As of Tuesday they had burned almost 10,000 acres combined and were 50% and 20% contained.