Jackson County commissioners Wednesday declared a local drought disaster and will ask the state for an emergency declaration to help free up resources for industries suffering the effects of a dry winter.
Snowpack in the Rogue Basin is at 31 percent of average, according to recent U.S. Department of Agriculture reports.
Eight snow monitoring sites in the basin have set new record lows, including three sites on Mount Ashland.
The Mt. Ashland Ski Area, which failed to open for the winter because of a lack of snow, already has been hard hit, but county officials expect agricultural businesses and the larger economy to suffer as well.
Dry conditions could also lead to an early start to the summer wildfire season, county officials said.
Local irrigation districts could be forced to curtail water later this summer.
Tributaries that run into the Rogue and Applegate rivers are in danger of drying up, which could harm farmers, ranchers, vineyard owners and others who rely on those natural water sources, county officials said.
Gov. John Kitzhaber could declare a drought disaster in Jackson County in April, officials said.
If he does, the State Water Resources Department can prioritize the use of water rights for human consumption and livestock and take other steps, including temporarily transferring water rights and authorizing use of supplemental groundwater.
The state of California already has declared a drought, which has allowed Oregon counties bordering that state to apply for help, including federal disaster loans.
The District 13 Watermaster's Office, which manages water supplies in the middle and upper Rogue Basin, can help those harmed by the drought or direct them to sources of help.
For more information, call the office at 541-774-6880.