USA - Clarke County seeking drought disaster declaration

22.09.2023 286 views

An effort is underway to help Clarke County farmers get compensation for crop losses they've suffered during this summer's drought.

The Clarke County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted a resolution asking the governor to declare a drought disaster in the county. The resolution will be sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Farm Services Agency (FSA) office in Richmond, through which localities must make such requests.

Several of the supervisors are farmers, so they're "keenly aware of daily challenges that farmers face," County Administrator Chris Boies said Thursday. "Chief among those are the vagaries of the weather.”

So far this year, the area surrounding Martinsburg, West Virginia, has received 18.09 inches of rain. That's 10.83 inches below the usual amount of 28.92 inches, National Weather Service information shows.

Martinsburg is 29 miles from Berryville, but it's the weather service's closest official reporting station to Clarke County.

"It's been a really unusual year" in terms of weather, said Millwood District Supervisor Terri Catlett, the board's vice chairwoman.

Virginia Cooperative Extension, the FSA and other agencies currently are assessing crop damages in Clarke County.

Preliminary estimates show a 45% loss in hay, resulting in a severe shortage, plus losses of 30% for corn and 25% for soybeans. There also has been a 35% loss of pasture grazing days, according to the resolution.

Crop losses are "not done yet," Catlett said — they will continue to increase unless a lot of rain occurs soon.

Furthermore, U.S. Geological Survey data shows groundwater levels are extremely low, the resolution points out.

Officials have said they know of some private wells around the county that are dry, although others seem to not be suffering nearly as much.

Water depth in the Shenandoah River, the source of Berryville's water supply, averages 3 feet. In late August, however, measurements showed an average depth of less than 1.2 inches, according to Clarke County spokeswoman Cathy Kuehner.

Meteorologists say a coastal low-pressure system could bring as much as several inches of rain to northern parts of Virginia this weekend.

If Clarke County is designated an agriculture disaster area, it could "open the door" to the county receiving state and federal disaster relief, Boies said.

Examples of such relief are emergency loans through the USDA and/or access to funds through the FSA's disaster assistance program.

Another possible source of assistance, Boies mentioned, would be a major disaster declaration issued by the president. It would provide access to Federal Emergency Management Agency programs for farmers, he said.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin would be responsible for requesting a presidential declaration.

"The county has little control over how the state and federal governments respond" to drought assistance requests, Boies said. But "a local resolution is a key first step in the process" of obtaining aid.

On Aug. 30, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality declared a drought warning for Clarke and six other counties in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, including Clarke.

A water supply warning declared by Berryville on Sept. 2 remains in effect. The declaration specifies mandatory conservation measures in place in the town.

Meanwhile, the Clarke County Sanitary Authority advises its customers in Boyce, Millwood, and White Post to conserve water as long as the drought persists.

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