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Farmers say drought could devastate Utah's produce supply

This year's drought is causing some Utah farmers to worry about the state's food supply. (Steven Breinholt, KSL TV)



SALT LAKE CITY — Most of Utah is already at the worst drought level and over half of the western United States is experiencing severe drought conditions, and farmers warned it's taking a toll on Utah's food supply.

"This drought has got me really concerned," said Ron Gibson, president of the Utah Farm Bureau.

Few places see and feel the impact of a drought like Utah's farmland.

"This year, it's serious," Gibson said.

So serious that during Gibson's call this week with fellow western state farm bureau presidents, he heard this from California's president: "There will not be tomatoes from California this year, because (we) don't have any water."

"We are getting a clear awakening in America of the importance of local agriculture."

All you have to do is visit Utah's reservoirs to see the result of several years of lower-than-normal snowpack. And Zach Frankel, the executive director of the Utah River Council said, "What we need to do is we need to respond. We need to adapt."

Frankel said it is going to take more than shorter showers to get out of this one. He said around 70% of the water we use in our cities is outside of our homes and buildings.

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"We need to reduce our water use outside, where we use the majority of our water in Utah. And we have been ignoring the need to do that for many, many decades," he said.

Frankel said Utahns need a dollar incentive to conserve water. The state has the cheapest water rates in the U.S., he said, and it shows with how much water we use — especially irrigation water that comes from a secondary source.

"Because those secondary water users don't know how much water they're using, they use too much. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet," he said. "It's great to have education about how important water is. It's true. But if we're not going to incentivize people to save water in their bill, then all we're really doing is giving it lip service."

Gibson's focus remains on his fields, where it has been for generations in his family. But in this year of harsh drought, his concern is with Utah's water storage.

"We got to do some serious water infrastructure in the state," he said. "Why don't we do something about it like build reservoirs? So, we can store the freaking water that we get? That's called infrastructure."

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Matt Rascon

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