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Drought Conditions Expand Across Inland Northwest

Federal agencies have expanded how much of the Northwest they think is suffering from drought.

An updated map released Thursday shows 88 percent of Idaho's territory is now categorized in moderate to severe drought. Just over half of Oregon is similarly parched. Washington state is faring better with just a sliver of land on the Idaho border classified in drought conditions.

This is the time of year when you expect warm and dry weather. What's coming home to roost now in large parts of the Northwest are the effects of a drier than normal winter and spring and snowpack that melted early, east of the Cascades. Some water reservoirs in southeastern Oregon and southern Idaho are already below 50 percent of capacity.

Oregon Wheat Commission CEO Blake Rowe sees uneven effects as harvest time starts. "Is it possible that some growers would take advantage of disaster loan programs? Certainly. But normal crop insurance is sort of the first line of defense."

Idaho's governor signed two more drought declarations this week, bringing to 13 the number of counties covered. Oregon's governor has declared drought emergencies in four counties -- Klamath, Baker, Malheur and Gilliam.

A drought designation allows the state to quickly process temporary water right changes. It also helps the process of getting federal disaster relief.

On the Web:

Drought information statement for Idaho and SE Oregon - National Weather Service 
US Drought Monitor map - National Drought Mitigation Center 
Idaho Drought Declarations 2013 - Idaho Dept. of Water Resources 
Oregon Drought Watch - Oregon Water Resources Dept. 
Drought and Disaster Assistance - USDA 

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.