State officials talk strategy after drought tour

Colorado may implement Stage 3 drought plan for agriculture

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Quotable

“We are trying to make sure that the federal government understands the severity of this drought and its' impact in agriculture. The governor already has a letter in his hands requesting that we move to a phase 3 activation of the drought plan for agriculture.”

— John Salazar, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture

Three days after examining drought conditions in the Yampa Valley, state officials said Friday plans are in place to up the drought plan from Stage 2 to Stage 3.

Taryn Hutchins-Cabibi, drought and climate change technical specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board and one of the organizers of Tuesday’s drought tour, said officials took a lot of valuable information away from local ranchers and plan to discuss their recommendation to increase the state drought plan to Stage 3 with Gov. John Hickenlooper soon.

Colorado’s drought plan features three stages, one monitoring phase and two response phases, Hutchins-Cabibi said.

In addition, the drought plan was written to provide state officials with the freedom to implement various stages of the plan to specific sectors of the state most affected, such as agriculture.

“From the public’s perception nothing would change,” she said. “We are already responding to and already dealing with situations as they arise in a very timely manner. “This would just up the ante on monitoring, engagement and response.”

Though implementing Stage 3 of the drought plan wouldn’t necessarily increase the amount of state funds and other resources available to the agriculture industry, it could pave the way for a presidential drought declaration, which could increase access to federal aid, Hutchins-Cabibi said.

“We are trying to make sure that the federal government understands the severity of this drought and its' impact on agriculture,” said Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar after the drought tour. “The governor already has a letter in his hands requesting that we move to a phase 3 activation of the drought plan for agriculture.”

None of this would have been possible without the drought tour, Hutchins-Cabibi said, which provided state officials with an opportunity to see the affects at ground level.

“I think everyone took away something slightly different and returned to Denver with valuable information,” she said. “One of my ah ha moments occurred when a lot of farmers and ranchers echoed the similar challenges they are facing far beyond just the water shortage, such as operations and grasshopper infestations.

“I think that speaks to the complexity of the complications associated with drought conditions and the amount of time it may take to recover.”

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