Western governors request federal assistance for drought

Posted at 9:42 PM, Aug 16, 2021

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis is among the group of western governors who signed onto a bipartisan letter to the Biden administration urging a FEMA drought disaster declaration.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, drought conditions across Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Idaho are at historic levels, with 99% of the West in a declared drought compared to 63% in 2020. An estimated 59.2 million Americans live in drought areas.

By President Joe Biden declaring a FEMA drought disaster, western states would receive additional federal resources, including assistance to protect family farmers, ranchers and fishers, the letter says.

“Hay prices have skyrocketed, ranchers are selling off their livestock and others are considering selling prime agricultural lands for development. At this point there is little to no animal feed across much of the West, requiring farmers to import feed from out of state. Without substantial assistance, rural economies in our states that rely heavily on agriculture and natural resources will take years to recover from the effects of this devastating drought,” the letter says.

The letter also addressed other issues related to the drought, like low or dried up reservoirs, increased algal blooms, a decrease in hydroelectric power and the potential shuttering of hydroelectric dams due to low water levels. Some communities impacted by drought are already running out of drinking water, the letter says.

“We continue to do what is within our power, including working with our state legislatures and local governments to mitigate the immediate impacts of the drought, but the situation is now beyond our capacity as states or a region to manage without additional federal assistance,” the letter says.

The group of western governors also requested that the Biden-Harris administration collaborate with the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior for additional livestock feed opportunities.

During the state’s drought tour, Polis announced a partnership with the Colorado River District and Colorado Water Conservation Board released 677 acre-feet of water Elkhead Reservoir to local farmers free of charge.