Polis And Other Western US Governors Urge Biden To Declare A Federal Drought Disaster

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Low water in Lake Dillion, May 18, 2021.

Gov. Jared Polis and governors from nine other western states are urging the Biden administration to declare a federal drought disaster across the western U.S. 

The bipartisan letter requesting federal aid says that without more funding, it will take years for agricultural communities to recover from drought, heat and catastrophic wildfires.

“Beyond the impact on those industries and communities, the drought will have serious downstream impacts on the security of our food, fiber and energy production, both regionally and nationally,” the governors write. “Those impacts include low or dried up reservoirs, increased algal blooms, a decrease in hydroelectric power and the potential of shuttering hydroelectric dams because of low water levels.”

Governors say animal feed supplies are dwindling, hay prices are skyrocketing and ranchers are being forced to sell off their livestock and prime agricultural land for development. Dry conditions and intense heat have devastated many agricultural commodities, the governors wrote in the letter.

“The National Weather Service recently reported that 67 weather stations in the West recorded their hottest temperatures ever. With temperatures reaching over 40 degrees above seasonal averages, agriculture commodities sustained a significant loss.”

The states say the situation is unmanageable at the regional and state level. They argue they need the flexibility of using American Rescue Plan funds for drought- and fire-related needs.

The governors note that while a formal Federal Emergency Management Agency emergency declaration is not typically issued for droughts, they say the designation will allow agricultural communities to access funding beyond what is available through existing emergency programs.