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Farmers wondering if irrigation water will run out with more than half of Utah in extreme drought

Posted at 7:43 PM, Jul 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-12 21:43:29-04

The numbers are in and though Utah is normally considered dry, more than half the state is under extreme drought conditions, while the other half is experiencing moderate drought.

National Weather Service Hydrologist Brian McInerney said the numbers aren't something families should worry about, it's farmers who will be hurt the most.

"They're the first ones who are going to take it on the chin when there's water shortages," McInerey said.

Luke Petersen, owner of Petersen Family Farm in Riverton, said his farm hasn't been hurting. The 2017 snowpack was so good, it's carried over two years despite such a low snow winter this past season. Others, he said, haven't been as fortunate.

"Some counties that have no water left," Petersen said. "For us that would be really detrimental to our business."

Petersen pointed out that sometimes droughts lead to farmers going out of a business, but economics and politics play a role in the farming business too. In the end, Petersen said farmers know how to go through tough times. "We know how to make things work on the farm."

Petersen's Riverton farm is holding up because of the water levels in the reservoir, levels that aren't affected by this wildfire season and the water needed to put fires out, according to McInerey.

There's a greater concern he's worried about.

"The aftermath of that fire is debris flows that are going to to on the roads, or they're going to impact water systems," McInerey said. "The debris goes into their spring collectors and then they don't have a clean water source. That's the big problem that we're dealing with today."

McInerey said debris flows and the concern about flash floods over the charred ground could last up to three years.

Utah may be dry now, but McInerey said he's more concerned for the long term trends of water in Utah.