Gov. Mary Fallin declared a drought emergency for five counties in the southwestern and Panhandle regions of the state Tuesday.
Jackson, Tillman, Greer, Harmon, and Texas counties may be the first to access the state's new Emergency Drought Relief Fund, which was established last session with the passage of House Bill 1923.
“These five counties have faced three years of unrelenting drought,” Fallin said. “It's not just an inconvenience; for many in these communities, it has caused real economic hardship.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor currently classifies the droughts in Jackson, Tillman, Greer, and Harmon counties as either extreme or exceptional, and Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey said over the last year the southwest region of the state has received nearly 8 inches less rain than average.
J.D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, said that from the beginning of the current drought in the fall of 2010 to the following year, the extreme lack of rain has cost the state's agricultural industry about $1 billion.
Blayne Arthur, associate commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry said not only are the food and crop producers being hurt, so are the local communities.
“For example, the cotton industry, which is primarily an irrigated crop, there wasn't any water to release from the lake for those producers,” Arthur said. “That also has a chain reaction because the cotton gins don't have business. So, there are employment opportunities that are not there, and then there are all the businesses that support the industry, feed for livestock and equipment industries that are affected, as well.”
Money utilized from the fund can go toward things such as providing water for livestock, rural fire suppression activities, and emergency infrastructure conservation. The amount of money each county will receive from the $3 million fund is yet to be determined.