Facing a decades-long megadrought, Colorado is considered by the federal government to be a primary natural disaster area.
The US Department of Agriculture typically qualifies individual counties as primary natural disaster areas, unlocking emergency funding for farmers, ranchers and more. The drought is so bad across the entire state that each of Colorado’s 64 counties qualifies, the agency announced Tuesday.
Some of Colorado’s biggest agricultural products include cattle and calves, winter wheat, sheep and lambs, wool, alfalfa, potatoes, onions, apples, peaches, grapes and melons, according to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
Crop and livestock production has suffered in Colorado since the early 2000s, when the drought began. And climate experts say they’re concerned about the Eastern Plains – an agriculturally heavy region in the state – as spring turns to summer, noting that they’re at an increased risk of wildfires.
Agriculture contributions an estimated $47 billion to the state’s economy every year and supports almost 200,000 jobs. The ongoing drought could cost Colorado’s agricultural industry $511 million by 2050, The Denver Post previously reported.
Colorado didn’t get enough snow over the winter to recover its dry soils and waterways, putting the state at risk for potentially disastrous wildfires this summer and fall. At best, portions of the state are considered “abnormally dry” by the US Drought Monitor. At worst, the southeast and southwest corners of the state are considered to be in an “exceptional drought.”
Denver hit its first snowless April in 30 years and the driest in 59 years.
The USDA qualifies individual counties for this type of natural disaster assistance and this year each of Colorado’s 64 counties meets the agency’s criteria. Adjacent counties in Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming also qualify.
Colorado and the other designated counties suffered from an exceptionally severe drought during the growing season and for a prolonged amount of time, according to the USDA’s website. Those applying for loans must apply by Dec. 8 and the money can be used for equipment, livestock, refinancing certain debts or the reorganization of farming operations, according to the USDA’s website.