Drought Intensifies, Triggers State Emergency Fund, Raises Concerns, OACD Director SaysWed, 09 Apr 2014 17:40:13 CDT
As the drought appears to be intensifying in parts of Oklahoma, state disaster assistance is starting to flow. Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, tells Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays the Emergency Drought Fund set up last year by the legislature and governor is beginning to show results as producers hunker down for what could prove to be another difficult year. (You can hear their full conversation by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story. Pope will also appear on this Saturday's "In the Field" segment on News 9 about 6:40 a.m.)
“This is the first time the state has ever put together a pot of money and a mechanism to actually deal with drought in the state. The governor has to declare a drought emergency. She declared a drought emergency toward the end of 2013 for four counties in southwest Oklahoma and one in the Panhandle.”
Pope says a commission of water and conservation officials determined how the $3 million dollar fund would be allocated and, so far, $375,000 was approved for projects in the affected counties. The local conservation districts have since been working with landowners to get projects underway.
“We’re glad that that money has gone out the door. It was a rather short turnaround in time frame. We’re hopefully getting some help out there. Water for livestock is the primary use of the money, but there’s also some money going for pasture repair… $375,000 is not that much money, it’s really a drop in the bucket, but at least it’s a start. And you hope the rains come and we won’t need any more.”
Despite some recent rains in parts of the state, Pope said he is very concerned that the drought has not abated in the hardest-hit areas of the state and forecasts for rain appear dismal at this point.
“We’re slowly slipping right back into that again and if an El Nino doesn’t set up, I’m really concerned we are going to be right back where we were this time two years ago, maybe even in worse shape.”
The focus of current conservation efforts in drought-prone areas, Pope said, is improving soil health by increasing the amount of organic material in the soil. For each one percent increase in organic material, the soil’s capacity to hold water is tripled.
“And the nice thing is the same practices that increase that organic matter to hold onto your moisture better are the same practices you want to do to control erosion.”
Another issue that touching on conservation recently is the EPA’s proposed rule to broaden its control over waters it can regulate which, by some estimations, would include practically any ditch on a farm or ranch that conducts rainwater. Pope said he was pleased that the EPA recognized the benefit of conservation practices in its proposal, but he was not so happy with its potential for overreach. He said the OACD has always championed a voluntary partnership between landowners and government agencies and, as Oklahoma has proven time and time again, it is an approach which is highly productive.
“You always get a little concerned that something could lead toward additional regulation because I really believe that the best way to address these programs is through voluntary action. I’ve told it to you before as an ag producer myself, ‘You can lead me anywhere, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be pushed.’”
Pope said Oklahoma farmers and ranchers have a track record of undertaking voluntary conservation efforts to address numerous issues including water quality and the preservation of the lesser prairie chicken, to name just two, with tremendous results.
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