Richland County Commissioners Request Drought Natural Disaster Declaration
April 21, 2021 | View PDF
On April 13 the Richland County Commissioners sent a letter to Montana Governor Greg Gianforte requesting a Drought Natural Disaster Declaration. The letter can be viewed in its entirety on The Roundup website, roundupweb.com. The letter read as follows.
Dear Governor Gianforte:
3. Provide Richland County a copy of the April 15, 2021 report of the Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee describing the potential for drought in the coming year.
4. Initiate procedures to proclaim a drought emergency or declare a drought disaster to, among other things, open opportunities for state assistance with such anticipated effects of drought as control of insect infestations and fire.
By March 26, 2021, Montana Public Radio published a report headlined “Montana’s March Drought Conditions Are Unprecedented; DNRC Says.” The report says; “Eastern Montana is painted mostly orange, signifying ‘severe drought.’ Roosevelt and Richland Counties each share a dollop of bright red for ‘extreme drought.’” The report continued:
Michael Downey with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation coordinates the state’s drought monitoring and reporting efforts.
Downey says, “I don’t know that we’ve had a end of March and had the map look like this — maybe ever. So, yeah, it’s pretty worrisome.”
By April 8, 2021, the U. S. Drought Monitor rated Richland County as suffering from category “D3 - Extreme Drought” with “Major crop/pasture losses” and “Widespread water shortages or restrictions.” While only 5.6% of Montana was in that category, 86.73% of Richland County was in that category.
The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center “Three-Month Outlook” for “Temperature Probability” for June-July-August of 2021 forecasts higher than normal temperatures.’” The Service’s “Precipitation Outlook” for the same period forecasts lower than normal precipitation.”
On April 5, 2021 the Board of County Commissioners of Richland County adopted Emergency Resolution No. 2021-06, “Open burning Not Permitted in Richland County,” declaring Richland County to be in State 1 fire and burning restrictions. The resolution recites existing dry conditions, low humidity, high winds, continued high temperatures, and many fires in our region.
We can see that grass in pastures is severely stunted and hay ground is getting such a poor start that hay will be short. Snowfall and early rains are the most important. Although late rains are beneficial, they cannot have an effect comparable to early moisture. This has an enormous impact in Richland County because of the importance of cattle here, as demonstrated by the fact that we have the second largest livestock auction ring in Montana. Cattle producers maybe put to a decision between buying expensive hay from outside our region or reducing herds at distress sale prices.
Richland County also has substantial dryland crop acres that are dependent entirely upon natural precipitation. These drought conditions typically reduce production to below break-even levels.
The Yellowstone River valley in Richland County enjoys flood irrigation by the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project, but every sugar beet producer will tell you that it clearly is worse to irrigate-up a crop than for the crop to emerge by natural precipitation.
Given the continued deterioration since December 2020, we believe updated information now warrants a USDA designation as a primary drought disaster county.
Duane Mitchell, Chairman; Shane Gorder, Commissioner; Loren H. Young, Commissioner; Tom Halvorson; Civil Attorney