All of us know how important water is to our success. Water is the only limiting factor we have to growth in Utah. —Utah Gov. Gary Herbert
OGDEN — Gov. Gary Herbert painted a grim picture for the coming months in Utah Thursday, saying the potential for drought and forest fires is worse than in 2007.
"We've had a unique challenge this past summer, the trajectory is worse than what we had in 2007 when it comes to drought and forest fire, and it impacts all of us," Herbert said.
The governor's comments came before farmers embroiled in one of the worst droughts to hit the nation since 1988. Herbert spoke to members of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation gathered for its midyear conference at the David Eccles Convention Center in Ogden.
From Indiana to Arkansas to California, a worst-in-a-generation drought is damaging crops and threatening to drive food prices to record levels.
On July 11, The United States Department of Agriculture declared more than 1,000 counties in 26 states as natural disaster areas and made all qualified farm operators in those counties eligible for low interest emergency loans from the USDA Farm Service Agency. Sixteen of those counties are in Utah.
The drought, and the pressure on water resources illustrated in a soon-to-be-released study of the Colorado River Basin, calls out the need for a comprehensive plan to help farmers and others who work and try to survive in the West.
"Water is important, we have some projects out in the St. George Pipeline, our rights in the Colorado River, the Bear River Basin has some potential for development up in the north part, the Gooseberry Narrows Dam now in Sanpete County, there are some areas that we have some potential to develop more water," Herbert said.
"Conserve what we have and make it stretch further, find better ways to do things, also developing resources that we need to have for future growth and we have potential for future growth."
Currently 78 percent of Utah's water is used for agricultural reasons, but as urban development continues to encroach on rural farmland more water is going to be diverted from farming to cities.
"You'll see a shift in agricultural water to municipal and culinary use," Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, said. "Bottom line, if we don't have the water, you can have all the water on paper you want but if we're short, we're short."
McInerney said climate change science anticipates longer periods of drought and more extreme weather and that it wouldn't be out of the realm of what is expected to come if drought conditions were to be longer and more severe.
"We have been breaking records with regard to our conditions here in Utah," McInerney said. "When you look at last spring, we had the wettest spring ever since 1872 and then we had the biggest volume run-off last spring. Now move forward and this whole year, from the fall to the current time, we've been breaking records for heat and dry."
Current conditions and future potential for drought underlines the necessity of a solution to Utah's current and predicted water usage.
"All of us know how important water is to our success," Herbert said. "Water is the only limiting factor we have to growth in Utah."
Herbert also spoke to Utah farmers Thursday about the importance of self-sufficiency. He said Utah needs to be energy self-sufficient as well as agriculturally self-sufficient.