Disaster declared in 55 Nebraska counties because of drought

Disaster declared in 55 Nebraska counties because of drought

Thursday, April 6, 2023

More than half of Nebraska's counties have been designated as primary natural disaster areas because of the ongoing drought.

The United States Department of Agriculture on Wednesday announced the designation for 55 of the state's 93 counties, which makes farmers and ranchers eligible for federal assistance.

Another 27 counties were designated as disaster areas because they are contiguous to one of the primary disaster areas, including Lancaster and Seward counties.

Counties with a disaster declaration are eligible for emergency loans for losses caused by drought, which can be used for purposes such as paying to replace equipment or livestock or refinancing debts.

Drought conditions have eased somewhat in Nebraska since the start of the year, but 98% of the state remains in some level of drought, with more than three-fourths in severe drought or worse, including nearly all of Lancaster County, and nearly one-third in extreme drought or worse.

Drought has been gripping the state for more than a year, which has led to numerous negative effects, including lower crop yields, premature livestock slaughter and water restrictions.

The drought caused the Platte River to run dry in sections last summer and it also greatly reduced the amount of water in some surface reservoirs.

Increased use of water for agricultural purposes helped lead to a big drop in groundwater across the state, according to a report released earlier this week.

The report from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln found that about three-fourths of the state's wells experienced a decline in groundwater during 2021 and 2022, with drops of more than 10 feet in some areas, because of decreased precipitation and an increased use of irrigation.

"The hotter and drier a growing season is, the less water is available for aquifer recharge, and more water is required for supplemental irrigation of crops, resulting in groundwater-level declines,” said Aaron Young, a survey geologist with UNL's School of Natural Resources and one of the authors of the report.


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