Drought has spread across the state, but conditions in southeastern Utah are dire and deepening.
The U.S. Drought Monitor says the area is experiencing "exceptional" drought, the agency’s most severe ranking.
“My dad's 93, and he told me he'd never seen a drought this bad in the county,” said San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams. “I've talked to several other older ranchers who have confirmed the same thing: It's never been this bad.”
Water restrictions mean lawns have already died, just like the range.
“All of the grass the animals try to graze is brown and looks dead — none of it's green,” said Adams, who’s also a rancher. “Some ranchers are ordering hay from Idaho because there is none.”
Adams said there was so little runoff that reservoirs are low and stock ponds are dry. He said ranchers are running thousands of gallons of water out to their stock each day to keep them alive.
“They're just a line at the well to purchase water every day,” he said, “by people who have water tanks that are hauling water to meet their needs.”
The U.S Agriculture Department’s latest climate report says that the eastern edge of Utah has received just 46% of normal precipitation since October.
Adams noted: “Stock ponds were not filled. And, so, every rancher is hauling thousands of gallons of water a day to try and keep these animals alive.”
County commissioners first declared a disaster in November, and they’ve reaffirmed that position each month since then. The U.S. Agriculture Department, which also recognizes the problem, has declared a primary natural disaster in more than a dozen counties in the Four Corners region.
Adams said San Juan County just needs rain.
“I get on my knees and pray every day but I'm not sure that that's doing the trick yet.”
Just a year ago, conditions were close to normal throughout Utah. The Drought Monitor shows parts of San Juan County were only “abnormally dry.”