July 26, 2012
By Jeff Cook
As more Illinois counties are added to the list of counties declared disaster areas because of a lingering drought, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said the state is preparing for the impact it will have on the state’s economy.
Simon was in Moline on Wednesday to lead a meeting of the Mississippi River Coordinating Council and spoke before the meeting about the impact the drought has had on the state.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture added 22 Illinois counties to the list of disaster areas Tuesday, bringing the total to 48 of 102. Simon said Gov. Pat Quinn has requested that the entire state be added to the list, which makes low-interest emergency loans available to farmers affected by the drought.
Simon also said the state has convened a drought task force to look at ways to mitigate other possible effects of the drought, such as higher food prices.
“It hits the farmers first, but it will sure hit all of us soon,” Simon said.
So far this year, the USDA has designated 1,234 counties in 31 states to be disaster areas because of the drought, according to a USDA news release.
Farmers in 10 Iowa counties may apply for low-interest emergency disaster loans through the USDA if they’ve suffered major production losses due to drought. The counties in southern Iowa are contiguous to the Missouri counties declared in a primary disaster declaration. In Missouri, 97 counties are in the primary area affected by drought conditions. The Iowa counties are Appanoose, Davis, Decatur, Fremont, Lee, Page, Ringgold, Taylor, Van Buren and Wayne.
In addition, the Farm Service Agency has authorized emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program lands in 25 counties for livestock owned by producers who have suffered pasture losses because of the drought. Those counties include Clinton, Jackson and Cedar counties in Iowa.
As of Thursday, the rainfall in Moline has been measured at 14.99 inches for the year, 28 percent less than normal.
Simon said she expects the number of counties on the disaster list to increase.
Jim Stiman, chief of the water control section of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Rock Island District, told members of the Mississippi River Coordinating Council that the drought has not had an effect on the ability of barges to navigate the upper Mississippi River, but it could soon have an impact on the area of the river between St. Louis and the Gulf of Mexico.
Stiman said the series of locks and dams that keep water in the pools in the upper Mississippi River stops at St. Louis because water from tributaries such as the Missouri River and the Ohio River usually keep enough water in the river to make it navigable.
But because the drought is so wide-spread, covering about two-thirds of the country, there is not enough water flowing from those tributaries to the Mississippi to avoid navigation problems.
Stiman said he expects there to be dredging in some areas of the river south of St. Louis to keep the river open to barge traffic.