Oregon governor expands drought emergency zone, says water shortages imminent

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Oregon Governor Kate Brown expanded the state’s drought emergency to eight more counties on Friday amid a devastating West Coast drought and warned that water shortages could be imminent and a tough fire season may be ahead.

The declaration comes after the governor of neighboring Washington state, Jay Inslee, declared a statewide drought emergency there last week, saying drought conditions due to a lack of snowpack there were some of the worst on record.

“We are going to experience one of the worst droughts in the history of our state. Snowpack is at historic lows and severe water shortages are nearly a certainty in many areas,” Brown said in a YouTube video.

The new Oregon counties listed in a drought emergency are Deschutes, Grant, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Morrow, Umatilla and Wasco, bringing the total to 15. In 2014, former Governor John Kitzhaber had declared drought emergencies in nine Oregon counties.

Brown had declared drought emergencies in Baker, Crook, Harney, Klamath, Lake, Malheur and Wheeler counties earlier this year.

The West Coast of the United States has faced tough drought conditions in recent years. California is enduring its worst drought on record, and drought emergencies have also been declared in parts of Nevada.

Snowpack conditions throughout Oregon average less than 7 percent of normal, according to the state Water Resources Department’s latest update on Monday. Statewide average precipitation is less than 87 percent of normal.

Thanks to unusually warm weather this winter, much of Oregon’s precipitation fell as rain instead of snow, meaning snowpacks that usually feed rivers and streams in the dry summer months are in a deficit and will likely lead to water shortages, according the Water Resources Department.

“As we move into summer, many areas of the state are going to dry out very quickly, likely leading to a difficult fire season as well as water shortages,” Brown said. “We need our state, local and federal partners to be prepared as our communities grapple with hot and dry conditions.”

The Oregon drought also means water shortages for farming and ranching operations. Long-term forecasts continue to call for abnormally high temperatures, Brown said in a statement.

Reporting by Shelby Sebens; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech