U.S. drought affects regions from Florida to Montana

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U.S. drought affects regions from Florida to Montana Because of drought, water restrictions are being implemented in much of Georgia and Kentucky June 14, 2000 Web posted at: 6:10 a.m. EDT (1010 GMT)

In this story:

Farmers fear for crops

Rivers and reservoirs run shallow

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Drought is parching many regions of the United States: Statewide water use restrictions go into effect next week in Georgia. Wheat farmers in Nebraska are predicting drastically reduced yields, and wildfires have scorched thousands of dry acres in Florida, Colorado and New Mexico.

"Our farmers are currently suffering the worst drought conditions in our state's history," Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said in a statement Tuesday.

Irvin said he has asked Gov. Roy Barnes to request damage assessment reports for each county to support a request for federal disaster aid.

The state has already imposed restrictions in the 15-county Atlanta metropolitan area that limit the days and hours when residents can water lawns or wash cars. Similar measures go into effect across the state next week.

Residents of South Shore in northeastern Kentucky have also been asked to cut back on lawn sprinklers and car washes. In Kentucky, 34 water systems have undertaken water conservation measures.

This week Kentucky's bluegrass region slipped into the severe drought category on the Palmer Drought Index, which is released weekly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The central and eastern regions of Kentucky are not far behind.

Last week the state's Division of Water placed 60 counties on a water shortage watch, and officials expect more counties to be added soon.

"It pretty scary actually," said David Morgan, supervisor of the divison's water quantity section. "I predict a lot of systems are going to have to go on water conservation. A lot of people are going to have to stop washing cars and watering their lawns and that kind of thing."

Farmers fear for crops The water restrictions in Georgia are causing concern among peanut farmers that state officials will also limit their use of irrigation systems, just as their crops reach a stage where having adquate water is critical.

"They need moisture desperately, especially those (crops) that were planted early," said John Beasley, a peanut agronomist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

In Nebraska, temperatures topping 100 degrees combined with gusty winds and little or no rain have taken a heavy toll on the wheat crop. As a result, some farmers are starting two weeks early on their winter wheat harvests, which are predicted to yield only about half what they did last year.

"They are going to be probably the poorest we've had in, I'm wanting to say, 50 years," said Randy Peters, who farms in the McCook area.

In Iowa, average precipitation so far this year is only about half what it was this time last year, said state climatologist Harry Hillaker. Corn leaves are curling in southern and western Iowa, which is unusual this early in the season and not a good sign, and southwest Iowa is "abnormally dry," Hillaker said.

And in Texas, not even recent heavy rains that caused flooding in some parts of the state were enough to end its drought. The rain will help establish crops during the planting season, but there's not enough moisture to sustain them for long, said Texas A&M economist Travis Miller.

Rivers and reservoirs run shallow Rivers and reservoirs in mountain states such as Montana are also feeling the pinch, in part because of light snowfall over the winter. Montana's snowpack is now all but gone from the mountains and the state needs above-normal rainfall to avoid drought. The forecast holds little promise of improvement.

Southwest and central Montana face severe drought while south-central, north-central and southeast areas can expect moderate drought. The northwest is the only area of Montana not in a drought.

Streamflows measured by the U.S. Geological Survey at eight key locations indicate the rivers carried only 79 percent of the normal water in May. Nine federal reservoirs in Montana hold only about 90 percent of the normal water for this time of year and only one is expected to fill this year. State-owned reservoirs on June 1 held only 88 percent of the water typical for that date.

Ray Nelson of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said the dry conditions are a bad sign for wildfires.

"Right now, we're forecasting a real active fire season," he said.

Several other states -- including Florida, Colorado and New Mexico -- have already experienced active fire seasons this year because of the dry conditions. Colorado is currently battling two massive wildfires that have burned thousands of acres and forced the evacuation of about 1,000 people from their homes.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 14, 2000

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