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Western Governors Hear Federal Drought Aid Is Coming

caption: This week's federal drought map shows how widespread the trend is across the West.
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This week's federal drought map shows how widespread the trend is across the West.

As the Northwest drought deepens, millions of dollars in emergency federal aid are headed toward stricken states, top Obama administration officials told seven western governors Friday.

The White House says it will make $110 million available to help those suffering from effects of drought.

A variety of federal agencies will disperse the money. Some will be used to help farmers find ways to conserve water, change grazing practices and improve irrigation.

The Department of Labor will put $18 million toward helping laid-off farm workers get temporary help and training.

Officials with the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, expressed concerns about money for wildfire fighting in what is expected to be a bad season in California, Washington and Oregon.

“We expect that if the fire season goes as we think that we could spend as much as $200 million more than we have allocated,” said Robert Bonnie, undersecretary for natural resources and the environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Snowpack, a critical source of water in the Northwest, particularly later on in the dry summer season, is at record lows across the region.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has just extended drought emergency status to four more counties, raising the total to 19 (of 36) and proposing a $56 million package to help communities prepare.

"Oregon is only just beginning to face what will likely be an unprecedented wildfire season and drought,” Brown said. “Oregon must now rise to the challenge that a changing climate brings. It is imperative not only for us, but for future generations, that we take action now.”

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a statewide drought emergency. “Impacts are already severe in several areas of the state. Difficult decisions are being made about what crops get priority water and how best to save fish,” Inslee said.

The Washington Department of Agriculture is projecting a $1.2 billion crop loss this year as a result of the drought.

The state hopes to make money available to help. A request for $9.5 million in drought relief funds has been submitted to the Legislature.

Money can be used to drill water wells, lease water rights and acquire pumps and pipes to move water from one location to another. Until funding is approved, the Department of Ecology is using existing funds for drought relief work.

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