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Oklahoma drought relief fund is proposed

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: February 12, 2013

As a drought continues its grip on the state, a legislative committee approved two bills Monday intended primarily to help farmers and ranchers, along with rural firefighters, who are struggling with dry conditions.

House Bill 1923 would allocate $10 million in the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1, for drought relief. The measure calls for forming the Emergency Drought Relief Fund and placing the money in it. Rep. Dale DeWitt, R-Braman, said money in the fund would be accessed only by state agencies that are qualified to provide drought relief after the governor declared a drought emergency.

“We're faced with severe drought across the state,” DeWitt, a farmer, told members of the House of Representatives Natural Resources and Regulatory Services Committee.

Committee members voted 8-0 without debate to pass HB 1923. The committee also without debate voted 8-0 to pass HB 1827, a similar measure proposed by Rep. Don Armes.

Armes, R-Faxon, said his measure also would create an emergency drought protection special fund, which would be handled by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. The fund would be activated when the governor declares a drought emergency.

Armes, a farmer, said money from the fund could be used for projects, such as cleaning ponds, building ponds, water conservation methods in agriculture, water for livestock, rural fire suppression, getting rid of Eastern red cedar trees and other drought-relief activities identified by the governor.

“We don't know where we're going with this drought, but it's a pretty tough one,” he said.

Both measures now advance to the full House. It's possible both measures could be combined into one bill, Armes and DeWitt said.

“We're trying to figure out a way to get some funding to rural Oklahoma for access to water,” said Armes, the committee chairman. “If a guy's trying to water cattle and doesn't have a well, maybe we can give him a grant to drill a well; maybe we can help with fuel costs on water hauling; maybe if a municipality is about to run out of water, we may be able to help them with drilling a well.”

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