Saturday, July 23


Governor's task force assesses drought impact in preparation for disaster area requests          Send a link to a friend

[JULY 23, 2005]  SPRINGFIELD -- Widespread rainfall was welcome throughout Illinois last week but did not alleviate drought conditions throughout much of the state. Members of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich's Drought Task Force met Friday to report on current conditions and analyze the impact of the drought across Illinois. The Blagojevich administration is reviewing damage reports from Illinois counties, as the governor prepares to officially ask the federal government Monday to declare Illinois a disaster area.

"Hurricane Dennis brought much-needed rain to our state, but it simply wasn't enough to turn our situation around,” Blagojevich said. “Our farmers are still facing a great amount of damage to their crops, and now the hot, dry temperatures seem to be coming back."

On Monday, the United States Department of Agriculture State Farm Service Agency will have an emergency board meeting in Illinois. During the meeting, the board will review Illinois' damage assessment report. After it reviews the report, the governor will request the federal government to declare Illinois a disaster area. A declaration would allow farmers to apply for low-interest loans through a series of programs offered by the USDA. A farmer may be able to borrow up to 100 percent of actual production or physical losses, not exceeding $500,000.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, there has been a strong difference in precipitation from north to south over the last two weeks. Southern Illinois enjoyed above-normal rainfall while far northern Illinois (north of I-80) was dismally dry. NASS reports that Illinois appears to be most seriously affected from an agricultural standpoint, with 55 percent of its corn and 36 percent of its soybeans reported in poor or very poor condition.

"The numbers reported by NASS could be devastating to Illinois farmers who are used to producing some of the best crops in the nation year after year," agriculture director Chuck Hartke said. "We can't make it rain, and we can't undo the damage that Mother Nature has done, but the governor has made it very clear he will do whatever is in his power to help the farmers recover."

Although Illinois agriculture seems to be in the most critical condition right now, the governor's Drought Task Force has been monitoring all areas affected by the drought since their last meeting two weeks ago. During the July 7 task force meeting the Illinois State Water Survey expressed concern that if Illinois did not receive sufficient rains, the lakes and rivers would be significantly affected.

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"Overall, we find that water levels are still down in the three major rivers serving the state: the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio," said Derek Winstanley, chief of the Illinois State Water Survey.

"These fluctuations contribute to the potential for fish kills and danger to boaters during low-flow conditions."

Due to extended dry conditions in much of the state, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency says Illinois residents should continue to use water conservatively during the hot summer months to try to prevent serious water shortages in the near future.

"The principal problem for public water supplies continues to be outdoor home and business water consumption, such as lawn watering,” said Roger Selburg, manager of the IEPA Division of Public Water Supplies. “This makes it increasingly difficult for communities to meet the additional demands consumers are placing on their distribution systems."

Illinois State Fire Marshal J.T. Somer urges people in drought-affected areas to be especially careful with open flames.

"When conditions are as dry as we're seeing right now, it doesn't take much to start a fire," Somer said. "People need to use extreme caution with cigarettes, outdoor grills, trash burning. Even parking their cars over dry grass or weeds could spark a fire."

[News release from the governor's office]

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