Siskiyou Supervisors declare drought local emergency

David Smith, GateHouse California

After weeks of rainfall in Siskiyou County, Natural Resources Policy Specialist Ric Costales warned Tuesday of last week that drought conditions are still dire for all areas of the county.

Costales and Ron Quigley, deputy director of the Office of Emergency Services, went before the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors to provide an update on the current status of the county’s interagency drought task force.

The board ultimately voted to declare a local emergency due to drought conditions, with the declaration highlighting impacts to fisheries, agriculture and the chance of catastrophic wildfire.

District 5 Supervisor Marcia Armstrong provided additional language declaring that the county’s policy is that water for human needs will take precedence over other needs, such as wildlife.

The board added Armstrong’s language, as well as a mention of the impacts to tourism.

‘Snow-driven’ systems far from being recharged

Costales said the recent rain and light snow have improved the county’s outlook marginally, but many water sources are part of “snow-driven” systems that are far from being recharged.

The United States Forest Service’s March 1 snow survey of the Scott River sub-basin shows all five survey sites well below historical averages for snow depth and water content. The total average snow depth is 12 percent of average, while the moisture content is 8 percent of average.

Costales told the board that the task force is still working on ways to gather necessary data that will help bring in aid dollars as they become available. On the agriculture side, the county has issued a questionnaire asking farmers and ranchers to identify and quantify their losses due to drought, such as cutting cattle herds down or having to cut back on the number of acres planted.

Throughout the meeting, the costs to winter tourism-intensive businesses were brought up, and the board identified that as another data set that the task force should target.

In order to collect, aggregate and analyze the data, County Administrative Officer Tom Odom said the county would likely have to hire an economist to make the county’s case for aid stronger.

Odom hinted that the cost of hiring a consultant would be worth it, stating, “Our whole county economy is at risk.”

Threat to outmigrating salmon juveniles

With a record Coho salmon run in the Scott River this year, many people close to the fisheries have expressed concerns that outmigrating juveniles will be trapped in the river due to dry conditions.

District 1 Supervisor Brandon Criss asked if the task force is looking at trucking fish from their home river to an ocean-access corridor, but Costales did not express confidence about that option being approved by the state.

“The department doesn’t like moving fish around, but this is a drought,” Costales said. He added that it is a discussion the task force is willing to have in order to avoid letting the Coho run “fall victim to red tape.”

Marijuana ordinance

Drought is affecting many industries and sectors in Siskiyou County, but it is now infringing on the effort to build a medical marijuana ordinance.

During the drought discussion, Odom told the board that county staff is facing onerous tasks with casino negotiations, drought preparedness, work on the new jail proposal and the preparation of next year’s budget.

“We’re at capacity,” he said.

Odom suggested that the board hold off on the more time-intensive aspects of the marijuana ordinance’s construction, at least until the budget has been crafted.

The ordinance, brought forth by Sheriff Jon Lopey, would regulate the size and location of medical marijuana grows on private property.

The board has committed to multiple public hearings before crafting the language of the ordinance, but those meetings will be delayed due to the current shortage of county staff time.