The U.S. Department of Agriculture added 76 counties in six states including Wisconsin and Michigan to its list of natural-disaster areas, as the worst drought in more than 50 years grips much of the country.
Today’s designation means that 1,369 counties in 31 states are now eligible to receive low-interest loans and other assistance from the federal government. In related action, lawmakers from both parties today moved to reauthorize a government agency that tracks the drought and is used by the USDA to identify affected areas.
“USDA is taking every possible step to help farmers through this difficult time,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
In addition to Wisconsin and Michigan, counties in Kansas, Indiana, Nebraska, Illinois were included in today’s declaration.
In Indiana, the capital Indianapolis is struggling under its worst drought in a century, imposing bans on washing cars, filling swimming pools and cleaning driveways.
Mayor Gregory Ballard today told a congressional hearing that the restrictions have cut daily water use by a third, or about 58 million gallons. The drought, the water restrictions and a ban on fireworks has hurt golf courses, car dealerships, city pools and firework shops, he said.
“There certainly have been significant anecdotal business impacts,” Ballard told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in Washington. The panel is considering legislation to renew the legal authority for the national drought information system. Lawmakers from both parties said they support its renewal.
The U.S. is experiencing its worst drought since 1956, with 56 percent of the contiguous states in moderate to severe drought over the past month. The country has also been through the warmest first-half of a year on record, Roger Pulwarty, program director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s drought system, told the panel.
The USDA last week said 88 percent of the nation’s corn and 87 percent of soybeans were in drought-stricken areas, and that conditions were the worst for farmers since 1988.
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