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Drought Means Hardship For Central Utah Ranchers, Farmers

Cory Maylett/Wikimedia Commons
Conditions are exceptionally dry in Sanpete County, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. This is a view of the Sanpitch Mountains from the Sanpete Valley.

Drought has settled Sanpete County, and last week conditions in central Utah reached the worst official category possible: "exceptional drought."

But Mike Larson didn't need the U.S. Drought Monitor to tell him how bad it is. He and his father raise cattle and alfalfa in Ephraim. The range is so dry they're feeding their livestock in pens. They're thinking they might have to start selling some cattle off.

Another sign, he said, is that the second crop of alfalfa is just a few inches tall when it should be a foot high.

"We're watering what we can and the rest is just burning up - a whole bunch of brown alfalfa fields," Larson said. "It's a real devastating situation right now. And now grasshoppers are moving in, and it's just not pretty."

Troy Brosten, a hydrologist with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, said Gunnison Reservoir was full about this time last year after an unusually wet spring. Now, he said, it's dried up, and the Sevier Bridge Reservoir has only about one-fifth of normal water. These two sources provide irrigation water for Sanpete agriculture.

map of drought conditions in Utah.
Credit U.S. Drought Monitor
Following a dry winter and spring, two parts of Utah are enduring "exceptional drought" conditions.

Bronsten said help could come from the monsoons, which typically arrive in the middle of July.

"That's the only thing that's on our horizon, and I honestly don't think that's going to be enough to pull us out of it, though," he said. "We'll need a good snowpack this year to help recover."

San Juan County in the southeastern part of the state is also experiencing exceptionally dry conditions. Meanwhile, 92 percent of the state is classified by the latest U.S. Drought Monitor as experiencing some level of drought.

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