According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, four Idaho counties are in a state of disaster because of drought. The counties are Canyon, Owyhee, Payette and Washington. Farmers and ranchers there and in any adjacent counties can get federal money to help them through the year if they can prove the drought is hurting their production.
But the designation, which the USDA handed out in May, comes after months of news that this was shaping up to be the best water year Idaho has had in a while, and that snow packs all over the state were at or above normal. Mark Samson, Idaho director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, says yes, snow packs are good.
“The water quantity through the reservoir systems, through the river systems for irrigation was very good and is still very good,’ Samson says. “However, you do have those pockets that are quote, unquote dryland, non-irrigated, that rely on Mother Nature.”
Samson says lack of rain combined with heat creates drought conditions in parts of the four counties. That triggered the county-wide disaster declaration. And ‘disaster’ he says, is a technical term that could give the public a false idea of the situation. He prefers the phrase ‘drought designation.’
The latest drought monitor shows only about one-fifth of Idaho is suffering from ‘abnormally dry conditions,’ the least severe classification used. None of Idaho is suffering from severe or extreme drought.
Samson says farmers who irrigate will be fine but ranchers may have trouble finding enough grass for their animals. He says these pockets of drought are very different from recent years. He says last year farmers and ranchers in almost every Idaho county were eligible for federal help because of lack of water.
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