County faces disaster designation because of long drought
Last week two official things happened that once again officially put Utah on the map as having a very dry year.
First the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) released their monthly report on precipitation, water storage and soil moisture.
Second the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that Utah is in a drought that hasn't been seen for years and is offering programs to help farmers and ranchers.
When the NRCS monthly report came out few were surprised by the numbers. The large amount of rain from the annual monsoon that has hit and missed the area did make a difference, but really only in the numbers. Precipitation in July was 181 percent of normal, a good thing for sure. That brought the seasonal accumulation (since Oct. 1, 2012, the beginning of the water year) to 83 percent of average.
However soil moisture is at zero percent compared to 45 percent last year at this time. Soil moisture is measured by the field capacity of the ground. When the ground is saturated it is said to be at 100 percent; it cannot hold any more water and just runs off. On the low end is wilting point. This means there is literally no water in the soil to support any plant growth. The Carbon county area is at the latter.
Reservoir storage overall is at 46 percent of capacity, compared to 63 percent last year. Scofield Reservoir, the main source of water for western and central Carbon County is below 40 percent. The water availability index for the Price River (reservoir and runoff is 23 percent of normal). Scofield's water level is the lowest of all the reservoirs in the Price-San Rafael area.
Many of the reservoirs in the area were built to help those below them to withstand a two year drought. Two years ago the reservoirs in the area were near total capacity because of high amounts of snow that accumulated in the mountains during the winter of 2010-2011. The next winter was fairly sparse on snow and last summer a lot of that capacity was used. This past winter there was some snow in the valleys, but the mountains got less than 50 percent of their normal accumulation. Therefore when the runoff took place this spring, it didn't do much to refill reservoirs that had been drained by last growing seasons use. The area is now nearing the end of a second cycle of drought and if this winters snows are not at least normal, water shortages could result next year.
All figures that came out in the report are based on measuring stations and analysis as of August 1.
Utah has been in a state of drought for almost two years now and a number of counties have been designated disaster areas by the USDA it was announced last week. What this action does is free up money to help those agricultural operators affected by the drought.
Three counties, Piute, Sanpete and Sevier are now primary natural disaster areas, because of the damage done by the drought. And because drought does not know any political or geographical boundaries, counties that are contiguous with those three can also get disaster relief money. Those include Carbon, Emery, Beaver, Garfield, Juab, Millard, Wayne and Utah counties.
According to the documents released by the agency, these designations make it so all qualified farm operators in those counties eligible for low interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency if eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity. The emergency loan rates have been reduced to 2.375 percent interest from 3.75 percent.
Additional programs available to assist farmers and ranchers include the Emergency Conservation Program, Federal Crop Insurance, and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.