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Douglas County completely drought-free for first time in almost a year ahead of summer

After several substantial winter and early spring storms, Douglas County is completely drought-free for the first time in almost a year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The monitor — a service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several other agencies — reported no areas of drought in its weekly update on April 9.

The county experienced varying levels of drought continuously from May 15, 2018, to April 9 of this year, including a 16-week stretch from the beginning of September to the middle of December in which 83.76% of the county was in “extreme drought.” Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency for the county in early June.

As of April 16, there were also no areas of the county considered “abnormally dry,” making it the first time Douglas County was both drought-free and without any abnormally dry areas since Jan. 2, 2018.

But water resource experts are “a pessimistic bunch” ahead of what will likely be another hotter than average summer, according to Douglas County Watermaster Susan Douthit. Farmers and livestock producers who do not live in the small number of areas served by a reservoir rely on snowpack to feed streams during the summer. Although water conditions are better than they were at this time last year, Douthit still expects the county will have to regulate water use for non-residential users in sub-basins without water storage this summer.

After more than 200% of the Umpqua and Rogue basins' average precipitation fell in February, snowpack levels in the basins were more than 110% of the 30-year median. Precipitation in March was 58% of average, however, and it only takes a few hot days to erase snowpack progress, Douthit said.

On Tuesday, the Umpqua and Rogue basins were at 89% of the 30-year median, according to the Natural Resources and Conservation Service.

Douthit said the outlook for water users in sub-basins with reservoirs is positive. Galesville Reservoir is almost 30 feet higher than the highest storage the reservoir attained last year, she said.

“Boats are going to float, so is the boat ramp,” Douthit said. “And we are maintaining that, so we still have a lot of inflow.”

She said people frequently ask her why the reservoir ever lets out water. “The last storm we got is a great example,” Douthit said. “One of the primary purposes of Galesville is flood control. With that last storm, the only reason Glendale wasn’t under water was because that reservoir was holding back an enormous amount of water.”

Douthit said she has been tracking the National Weather Service’s three-month forecasts to see how snowpacks in the area may change.

Temperatures across the state were above average in March, according to the Oregon Water Resources Department’s report on April 22.

They’re expected to be below average during the next two weeks, however.

Although there’s an equal chance of above-, normal- or below-average precipitation in Douglas County for June, July and August, according to the National Weather Service, there’s a 50 to 60% chance temperatures will be above average for those months.

“That prediction has been pretty consistent,” Douthit said.

A representative from the NRCS office in Portland will be at Elmer’s Restaurant in Roseburg at 8 a.m. on Thursday to talk about water availability and snowpack.

Dems and Trump agree to $2T for roads, bridges

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders agreed Tuesday to work together on a $2 trillion infrastructure package — but put off for later the difficult question of how to pay for it.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said there was “good will in the meeting” — a marked departure from the last meeting between Trump, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which ended with Trump walking out in a huff. Schumer said the two sides agreed that infrastructure investments create jobs and make the United States more competitive economically with the rest of the world.

Most importantly, Schumer said, “we agreed on a number.”

“Originally, we had started a little lower. Even the president was eager to push it up to $2 trillion, and that is a very good thing,” Schumer said.

Added Pelosi: “We did come to one agreement: that the agreement would be big and bold.”

Pelosi and congressional Democrats had asked for the meeting with Trump to discuss launching an ambitious building program that’s a top priority for the party and has been a rare area of potential bipartisan accord with Republicans. Trump, too, has long promised a big infrastructure plan.

The dozen Democratic lawmakers in the meeting with the president called it a constructive start. They said Trump agreed that infrastructure investments should go beyond roads and bridges and include broadband, water systems, and enhancements to the electrical grid.

Democrats also put the onus on Trump to come up with a funding source, and said they would meet again in three weeks, when the president will present his ideas. The nation’s top business groups and labor unions support increasing the federal gasoline tax, currently 18.3 cents a gallon. It was last raised in 1993.

Asked whether Trump supports raising the gas tax, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said before the meeting: “This president is the guy who lowers taxes.”

Trump, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, adviser Ivanka Trump and a half-dozen other administration officials met with the 12 Democrats in the Cabinet Room.

Infrastructure is seen as the one issue with the best chance for the two sides to work together this Congress — and even that isn’t given good odds for a fruitful ending.

The meeting played out against the backdrop of high tensions over escalating Democratic investigations following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling. Lawmakers and the Republican president also have on eye on the 2020 elections, meaning every provision of an infrastructure package — including how to pay for it — will be made with that in mind.

More than one “infrastructure week” already has come and gone over the past two years with nothing to show for it. Still, advocates for an infrastructure package boost see a narrow window for action.

“I think a deal can be had if everybody is willing to put their battle axes away for a period,” said former Republican Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, who served as chairman of the House’s transportation committee for six years.

A compromise could offer political benefits to both sides. Trump’s re-election prospects are tied to a strong economy that would get another boost from new road and bridge projects. House Democrats have passed an array of bills that have gone nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Pelosi has dozens of new Democratic House members who won in competitive districts, said Shuster, and “they need to be able to go home next year and say they’ve accomplished something.”

But the two sides also have some competing priorities that will complicate matters. The president and Republican leaders want to speed up the permitting process for building energy and transportation projects and that’s not on most Democratic lawmakers’ to-do lists. Democrats are looking for ways to pay for greater infrastructure spending without adding to the national debt, and that could mean higher fuel taxes.

Committees in both chambers of Congress have started to lay the groundwork for an infrastructure bill through hearings, with Democratic lawmakers hoping to have legislation ready for consideration by June or July.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will give every House lawmaker a chance to share their infrastructure priorities on Wednesday.

Then, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., will lead a delegation to visit a dilapidated, century-old tunnel that connects New Jersey and New York. Experts say a new tunnel is essential to ensuring reliable rail travel throughout the Northeast, but the price tag will be steep.

The infrastructure issue has aligned the nation’s top business groups and unions, a rarity in Washington. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has proposed increasing the federal fuel tax 5 cents a year for five years, then allowing it to increase with inflation.

Ed Mortimer, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the group would have the back of lawmakers who face criticism back home for supporting a higher federal gas tax.

“We’re going to support any elected official willing to have a serious discussion and vote to raise revenue for infrastructure,” Mortimer said.

So far this year, Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio and Virginia have enacted gas tax increases, although Virginia’s only applies to a portion of the state. Some 30 states have done so since 2013.

Register by Tuesday to vote in May Special District Election

The deadline to register to vote in the May Special District Election is 11:59 p.m. today.

This election will decide membership on a number of education, fire and other local boards around the county. Also at stake are construction bonds in the Elkton and Winston-Dillard school districts, and a measure to reduce the size of the Reedsport School District board.

A fourth measure is a proposed amendment to the Reedsport City Charter. It limits the Reedsport City Council’s ability to increase utility rates without an election.

Voter registration is available online through the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office at This is a secure site that will allow Oregon residents to verify their current registration status, change incorrect information or register to vote.

Ballots will be mailed Thursday.

Registered voters who have not received their ballots by May 9 should contact the Douglas County Election Office.

Signed and completed ballots can be placed in the mail or in one of the drop boxes located around the county. Ballots must be received no later than 8 p.m. on May 21, not postmarked by that date. Signing the return envelope is mandatory for ballots to be counted, as signatures must be verified.

Ballot boxes are available at the following locations: Canyonville City Hall, 250 N. Main St.; Douglas County Annex, 680 Fir St., Reedsport; Douglas County Clerk’s Office, Room 124, and courthouse lawn, 1036 SE Douglas Ave., Roseburg; Drain City Hall, 129 West C Ave.; Roseburg Public Library East Parking Lot, corner of Fowler Street and Diamond Lake Boulevard; Glendale City Hall, 124 Third St.; Myrtle Creek City Hall, 207 NW Pleasant; Riddle City Hall, 647 1st Ave.; Sutherlin City Hall, 126 E. Central Ave.; Umpqua Community College Library, 1140 Umpqua College Road; Winston City Hall, 201 NW Douglas Blvd.; and Yoncalla City Hall, 2640 Eagle Valley Road.