A drought in 2015 nearly emptied Detroit Lake, a reservoir between Bend and Salem. (Photo by David Reinert/Oregon State University via Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Twelve of 36 counties, covering half the land in Oregon, are in a state of emergency over drought, with local officials calling for help.

Gov. Tina Kotek Wednesday declared the latest drought emergencies in Gilliam, Douglas and Lincoln counties, the 10th, and 12th such declarations of the year. 

The declarations follow requests for drought aid from local commissioners and direct the Oregon Water Resources Department, and other state natural resource and emergency agencies, to assist industrial and municipal water users in those counties. Agencies can help with water rights transfers and drilling emergency wells. The emergency declaration also allows some industrial users to apply for federal aid. 

Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Harney, Jackson, Jefferson, Lake, Sherman, Wasco and Douglas counties also received emergency drought declarations this year. 

Most of the state is in a moderate to severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, impacting about 3.6 million Oregonians. A lack of precipitation and declining water levels in streams and rivers affect farming, ranching and recreation, according to a news release from the governor’s office, and are likely to lead to shorter growing seasons and wildfire risks. 

Droughts are exacerbated by human-caused climate change, and in the West, droughts have become longer, more frequent and more severe, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In Gilliam County in north central Oregon, drought conditions have spread since the fall of 2022, according to the news release, and the county has received 75% less precipitation this year than usual.

Douglas County in the southwest corner of the state has experienced its sixth driest summer on record. Streams are flowing at below average or record low levels, and the water level in a key reservoir in the Rogue River Basin is below average. Lincoln County is also dealing with record low streamflows.

Last year, the West experienced its driest period in 1,200 years, according to climatologists

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.