All 29 Utah Counties are now included on the disaster declaration list from the U.S. Department of Agriculture due to ongoing drought across the West.
In a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert earlier this week, U.S. Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack informed state officials that Uintah and Duchesne counties were added to the list. They were the only two counties not included before the change.
According to a government report, Utah is one of the driest states in the nation. However, it is also one of the highest water consumers, with individuals using nearly 270 gallons of water per day, compared to the national average of 179 gallons.
Simon Wang, professor in the Department of Plants, Soil and Climate at Utah State University said the state is currently in a 10- to 15-year-long drought cycle. He said Utah is currently working its way out of the driest part of the undulation—meaning things will be dry for a while longer.
“Expecting the current drying trend or the drought conditions to recover during the summer is almost impossible,” Wang said. “The only hope comes into the next snow season.”
In a more long-term analysis of the drought, Wang said researchers have discovered a downward trend in soil moisture and ground water. He said the finding is troubling considering nearly all of the state’s counties get at least half of their water from ground sources.
He said policies such as a water conservation act are needed to address the growing issue, saying the severe drought in California serves as a good example as to why Utah needs to plan ahead.
“It really tells people how important water conservation and water management, and water rights can be," said Wang. "And how important it is to get those rights. So when a drought as devastating as [the one in] California [happens], Utah will be prepared.”
The updated disaster designation will allow farmers across the state to request emergency loans.