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Jackson County declares drought disaster

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has declared a local disaster because of drought conditions.

Commissioners also voted unanimously this morning to ask Gov. Kate Brown to declare a drought emergency for all of Jackson County due to severe and continuing drought conditions.

Commissioner Colleen Roberts said rain this week isn't enough to ease drought problems.

"Even though we have welcome rain this week, the snowpack gives us concern," she said.

A drought declaration for Jackson County allows for emergency water use permits, temporary transfers of water rights, preferred use of water rights for human consumption and other steps, according to Jackson County officials.

"We obviously can't create water in a drought, but we can try to help," said Larry Menteer, southwest region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department.

Although total precipitation — including rain and snow — for the water year is at 89 percent of average, snowpack in the Rogue Basin is just 13 percent of average, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics for the water year that ended April 28.

Local irrigation districts rely on gradually melting snow to supply reservoirs through the summer irrigation season.

As of this week, Emigrant Lake is 84 percent full because it captured February rainfall. Not enough rain fell farther east to help Howard Prairie Lake, which is 40 percent full, or Hyatt Lake, which stands at 42 percent full, according to Menteer and Bureau of Reclamation measurements.

Northeast of Ashland, Fourmile Lake is 52 percent full and Fish Lake is 61 percent full. North of Medford, Agate Lake is a bright spot at 94 percent full.