FARMINGTON – San Juan County has officially been in a drought with varying degrees of severity for 78 weeks as of this week.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, parts of San Juan County initially entered into a severe drought the week of Aug. 27, 2019. Since then, the drought situation has only worsened, with a majority of San Juan County now in what is classified as an exceptional drought.
The levels of drought go moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional.
The monitor also says a prolonged extreme drought status for agriculture and farming can result in livestock suffering, producers selling herds as feed costs are high, emergency grazing is authorized and crop yields are low. In other aspects, an extreme drought status increases the fire danger to extreme, irrigation allotments decrease, and vegetation and native trees begin to die.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, in an exceptional drought status which is what San Juan County is classified as right now, federal lands close for fire precautions and burn bans increase; bears encroach on developing areas and migratory birds change patterns; no surface water is left for agriculture and farmers use private wells; and the Rio Grande and other rivers dry up.
When a county has held an extreme drought status for a certain number of weeks different relief programs become available for farmers and ranchers and those who can show they are affected by the drought.
It has been almost a year since San Juan County was designated as primary natural disaster area by New Mexico Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.
Since then, the county has not had enough precipitation in the area to pull it out of the exceptional drought classification.
Brenda Archuleta, spokeswoman for the Farm Service Agency, said all New Mexico Farm Service Agency offices have taken applications for the 2020 disaster assistance related to the drought. Archuleta added that every county in New Mexico actually “triggered” eligibility for drought assistance in 2020 based on the U.S. Drought Monitor.
“Every County in the state for 2020 received a Secretarial Disaster Designation making the producers in these counties eligible for Emergency Loans,” Archuleta said.
Kristina Eckhart, spokeswoman for the Office of the State Engineer, said even with the recent snowfall, San Juan won’t change anytime soon.
“It would take a significant amount of snow to change the drought status,” Eckhart said.