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Utah declares state of emergency due to drought

Posted at 2:42 PM, Mar 17, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox has issued a state of emergency because of drought in Utah.

The order, issued on Wednesday afternoon, allows for state and federal resources to be used to help farms and communities that might be impacted by what is expected to be a long, hot summer.

"We’ve been monitoring drought conditions carefully and had hoped to see significant improvement from winter storms," the governor said in a statement. "Unfortunately, we have not received enough snow to offset the dry conditions. I ask Utahns to evaluate their water use and find ways to save not only because of current drought conditions but also because we live in one of the driest states in the nation."

On Wednesday evening, a group of farmers and ranchers gathered in downtown Salt Lake City for a conference hosted by the Utah Farm Bureau.

The Young Farmer and Rancher Tour of Utah was meant to showcase operations and facilities around the state, and allow those incoming to the industry to learn from generations before them.

"There's farmers here from every corner of the state," said sheep rancher and alfalfa farmer Whitt Sorenson, from Delta. "The first thing you talk about is the weather and the water."

And water was certainly a topic of conversation-- including Wednesday's executive order.

Sorenson talked about how farmers are expected to lose two-thirds of their income this year because of a lack of water. They will have to make decisions he said, like cutting down crop size or growing a full crop with the chance of permanently losing some of it to drought.

"It's a really scary situation right now," he said.

Presently, all of the state is considered to be in a "moderate" drought condition. Approximately 90% of the state is considered to be in "extreme" drought conditions.

Utah's winter snowpack is about 70% of the average for the year, the governor's office said. To reach an average level, the mountains need to receive the remaining 30% before the first week of April. That is not expected to happen. In addition, Utah Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Brian Steed said soil moisture is at its lowest level since 2006.

The executive order allows farmers like Sorenson to tap into federal grants and financial assistance during a year of hardship.

"If you talk to any farmer or rancher in state of Utah, they've already considered an emergency declaration for months," he said.

Farmers and ranchers were already hit hard during COVID-19, Sorenson said. The pandemic heavily disrupted the food market, that Sorenson said made for a wild ride as the price of commodities skyrocketed and then dramatically dropped.

They are still reeling from last year. To have no water moving forward, he said, is detrimental.

Through it all, they rely on resiliency and hope, he indicated.

"As farmers we go a lot on faith," Sorenson said. "At end of the day, that's all we can do is pray and put it in His hands, and just try our best."

While farmers and ranchers are closely following the executive order, Steed urged that everyone look at what they can do to conserve water this year.

"We urge people to consider ways they can save water and help be part of the solution. The state also offers water-saving and money-saving rebates to help with both indoor and outdoor conservation," he said in a statement.

Read the state of emergency declaration here: