Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has released a comprehensive strategy to address water shortages and potentially extreme wildfire danger, bringing state and local partners together to ensure that Oregon is prepared to respond to drought and fire emergencies this spring and summer. The Governor also called on the federal government to ensure that adequate resources are in place, including a full complement of crews and equipment to fight fires on federal lands in Oregon.
“Oregon is experiencing the second driest winter on record, and that has serious implications for our economy as our summer months are critical to agriculture, fishing and recreation,” Gov. Kulongoski said. “While I can’t make it rain, I can ensure that we have systems in place to manage these conditions and that we tap every available resource from the federal, state and local levels so we can meet the needs of Oregon communities.”
The Governor identified the Department of Water Resources, Oregon Drought Council, Oregon Department of Forestry and Office of Homeland Security as the primary drought and fire management agencies and directed them to: 1) monitor water and wildfire conditions and implement the state’s response; 2) update drought and fire planning activities throughout the state; 3) coordinate with local governments to assess local conditions and ensure effective processing of state and federal drought declarations and other state and federal assistance; and 4) coordinate with government at all levels, and with forest landowners, in sharing information about fire conditions and about the availability of firefighting resources.
The Oregon Drought Plan includes the practice of emergency drought declarations, which the Governor issued in Klamath and Baker counties in early March, providing flexible water management tools to irrigators, municipalities and other water users, not generally available under Oregon law. Requests from Morrow, Sherman and Umatilla counties are pending review by the Drought Council, which was to make a recommendation to the Governor after their meeting on March 29. The Governor has also asked the Drought Council to assess and make a recommendation on a statewide drought emergency after their meeting.
“I have asked the Drought Council to assess the current water conditions and projections and to report back to me next week as to whether a statewide drought declaration is the best path to take at this time,” the Governor said. “I expect any recommendation about how to proceed to position Oregon to tap every available resource from the federal, state and local levels so that we are doing everything we can to meet the water needs of our communities.”
Drought and Fire Web site
The Governor highlighted the importance of communication among all levels of government, forest landowners and the public about water and fire conditions throughout the state, and announced the launch of a new page on his Web site which will serve as an information hub. The Web site will include frequently asked questions about state drought and fire plans, weekly updates on drought and wildfire conditions throughout the state, water conservation and fire prevention strategies, and other updates as conditions change, including the state’s response as needed.
Water Conservation and Fire Prevention
The Governor also addressed the role of water reuse as an important part of water conservation, signing Executive Order 05-04, which directs the state to promote policies and programs to encourage and support water reuse to help the state meet its overall water needs. The executive order includes recommendations outlined by the legislative task force led by Rep. Jackie Dingfelder on urban water reuse. The text of the executive order is available on the Governor’s Web site, under the “Oregon Drought and Fire Information” icon.
“Water conservation requires simple steps that make a difference,” said the Governor. “I encourage all Oregonians to join the state in taking these important steps, such as planting spring flowers that don’t require excessive watering, washing your cars less often, and most importantly – heed to public water suppliers when they call for us to conserve water at critical times.”
The Governor also urged Oregonians to exercise caution in Oregon’s forests, which are at near-record dryness levels for this time of year.
“All of the traditional precautions -putting campfires dead-out, following all local rules on backyard burning, and awareness of other causes of fire – are more important now than ever,” he said. In addition, the Governor said, with more Oregonians building homes in and around forested areas, the chances of destructive wildfires are increased. He called on owners of forest homes to ensure that they have removed excess brush and taken other measures to protect their property from fire.
In years when fire danger is severe, the Department of Forestry implements special plans to bring in extra firefighting crews, air tankers and other resources. This year, the department has accelerated its preparation for such severe conditions and was to have the plans in place by April 1, a month ahead of schedule, the Governor said.
Role of the National Guard
The Governor recognized the new challenge this fire season with Oregon’s entire fleet of Chinook helicopters – the most effective tool in fighting fires from the air – being utilized in Afghanistan, and with fewer National Guard soldiers available to help fight fires here at home.
“Oregon has – and continues to make great contributions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said the Governor. “But if the safety of our forests, our citizens and our economy become threatened because we do not have the flight tools or the people-power to fight fires – I expect the federal government to take whatever steps necessary to make sure Oregon doesn’t pay twice for our contributions.”
The Governor also directed the National Guard to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the impacts federal deployments will have on Oregon’s firefighting capabilities this summer and said he will request specific federal assistance as necessary during the upcoming fire season.
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