MOLINE – Before chairing a meeting of the Mississippi River Coordinating Council, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon announced that 22 additional counties have been declared federal disaster areas, and she urged the federal government to issue a disaster declaration for the rest of state due to significant crop losses suffered during one of the hottest and driest summers on record.
The United States Department of Agriculture has declared 22 new counties disaster areas because of damage from drought or frost and additional designations are expected soon, Simon said. The latest additions are Adams, Boone, Brown, Calhoun, Carroll, Edgar, Greene, Hancock, Henderson, Jersey, Jo Daviess, Lake, Madison, McHenry, Monroe, Morgan, Pike, Scott, St. Clair, Stephenson, Vermillion and Winnebago.
This brings the total number of counties eligible for low-interest federal loans to 48, Simon said. The USDA is still assessing drought-related damages in 54 other counties for which Governor Quinn has requested federal disaster declarations, including Rock Island County, she said.
“The USDA has streamlined and accelerated relief to drought communities across America, and we need this support to continue as drought conditions cripple more counties in Illinois,” Simon said during the river council meeting at the Western Illinois University Quad Cities River Front Campus. “While what we need in the short-term is more rain, federal and state assistance will make sure farmers can get in the field next year.”
Simon also noted that the USDA decided Tuesday that farmers in 10 counties – Adams, Brown, Cass, Greene, Hancock, McDonough, Mason, Menard, Pike and Schuyler – can begin emergency haying immediately, with every county statewide eligible for emergency haying and grazing August 2. This means farmers can allow livestock to feed on conservation lands under certain guidelines.
The state has launched www.drought.illinois.gov as a repository for drought-related information and resources. The website includes information on recent drought conditions, water conservation tips, a listing of state and federal agricultural resources, announcements of new declarations, and applications for available financial assistance. The state has activated four loan programs that supplement federal assistance and crop insurance.
As of Thursday, Moline had received just 14.99 inches of rain for the year, a 28 percent drop from normal according to the National Weather Service. So far this month Moline has received just 0.31 of an inch of rain, over two inches below normal.
Statewide precipitation has only been 13.54 inches this year, making it the second driest January-July period on record according to the Illinois State Water Survey. Because of these dry conditions over 95 percent of Illinois, including Rock Island County, has been classified as in severe drought or worse. This has taken a toll on crops as 66 percent of corn, 49 percent of soybeans and 91 percent of pasture was rated poor to very poor this week by the USDA.
While farmers in the Quad Cities and around the state are struggling, navigation through the Upper Mississippi River, which begins in Minnesota and extends to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers near St. Louis, has not been impacted by the drought conditions. This is according to James Stiman, chief of the Water Control District at the Rock Island District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who gave a presentation on the Upper Mississippi River Navigation System at the river council meeting.
The same cannot be said for navigation along the Middle Mississippi, which runs from the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers near Cairo. The drought has forced water levels in the Middle Mississippi below historical averages according to the St. Louis District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
These water levels have forced barges to reduce the amount of product they can carry, and will impact both farmers and consumers because the Mississippi River serves as a shipping route for major agricultural exports such as grains and soybeans.
The next meeting of the Mississippi River Coordinating Council is December 5 at 1:30 p.m. at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Carlyle Lake Visitors Center in Carlyle.