State officials meet for first time in a decade to address Utah drought

State officials called an emergency meeting to address "exceptional" drought conditions declared an emergency disaster in six Utah counties. The conditions decimated farmers' crops and resulted in the deaths of wildlife. (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) — For the first time in nearly a decade, drought conditions across Utah are so bad, officials were forced to call an emergency meeting.

On Monday, Utah’s Drought Review and Reporting Committee met to discuss expanding the emergency disaster area. So far, six counties across the state, including San Juan, Box Elder, Wayne, Carbon, Grand and Emery counties have declared a state of emergency at county level.

“According to the drought monitors, we’re about at the worst level we can be,” said Mike Styler, the executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

San Juan and Sanpete Counties are some of the driest in the state and are considered “exceptional drought” areas.

"We have ranchers having to pull their cattle off of the mountain because of the drought,” Styler said.

Farmers there are left without water for their crops.

"I don't remember this happening in my lifetime," said Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox.

His family farm is in San Juan County. Cox said he’s never seen a year so dry.

"This year, we were only able to get one crop of hay," he said.

He said his farm was out of water by July 1.

"That's huge. That's not even enough to pay the bills, let alone make any sort of profit," Cox said. "It's impacting the bottom line for farmers and, unfortunately, there's not a lot of money to be made anyway in farming and ranching."

A drought year can bring consequential impacts to farmers and ranchers. Wildlife across the state are struggling to find water, too.

"Down in San Juan County, we have collars on a bunch of deer," Styler said, "every one of those babies died this year."

Farmers and ranchers are counting on a wet winter ahead.

"We can get through this year; if it happens again, we will be declaring disaster area," Cox said.

The committee will spend the next few weeks reviewing the drought report and then decide whether to bring their concerns to the governor’s desk.

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