Large reservoirs have buffered urban areas in the Southwest from the worst of the year’s dry conditions, but rural farmers and ranchers are bearing the brunt of water shortages and the economic fallout.
CHESTER, Utah – It’s only the beginning of August – typically the height of the farming season – but the irrigation ponds here in Sanpete County ran dry a month ago. They are now filled with brush and desperate waterfowl while the land surrounding them lies barren, local farmers having already stripped up most of their crops to glean what little profit they can.
Farmer Scott Sunderland runs the numbers on his smartphone and the outlook is bleak. He needs $250,000 just to pay the taxes and debts he owes on the 700-acre farm he’s managed for more than three decades. If he’s lucky, he’ll have $220,000 by the end of the season.
“If the drought holds on another year,” he said, “we’re going to have to start liquidating … But once you start down that road, it’s almost a dead end.”
Chester, an unincorporated community in central Utah, has been hit by “exceptional” drought conditions, the most severe rating issued by the United States Drought Monitor. For much of the southwestern U.S., this past winter […]