More federal assistance becomes available as Utah's drought situation worsens

A boater enjoys the water at Jordanelle State Park on Friday, July 16, 2021. The water levels are low due to drought. A recent study breaks down drought data from the past 20 years.

A boater enjoys the water at Jordanelle State Park on Friday, July 16, 2021. The water levels are low due to drought. A recent study breaks down drought data from the past 20 years. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

ST. GEORGE — More federal emergency assistance is available for Utahns impacted by the drought following a drought declaration in Piute County last month.

The U.S. Small Business Administration on Tuesday announced that certain small businesses in Beaver, Garfield, Piute, Sevier and Wayne counties are eligible to apply for economic injury disaster loans, a low‑interest loan to help offset economic losses caused by drought. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack designated an agricultural disaster in the southern Utah counties on May 23.

All small nonfarm businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and small businesses "engaged in aquaculture" and most private nonprofit organizations in the southern Utah counties may be eligible for loans of up to $2 million to cover income that would have otherwise been met if Utah wasn't in a drought. Farming and ranching businesses are not eligible for this type of disaster assistance, according to the agency.

"(Small Business Administration) eligibility covers both the economic impacts on businesses dependent on farmers and ranchers that have suffered agricultural production losses caused by the disaster and businesses directly impacted by the disaster," said Tanya Garfield, the agency's regional disaster field operations director, in a statement.

However, these counties and the rest of Utah were already eligible for these types of loans following a similar declaration beginning in late April. Drought emergencies in other parts of the West in recent weeks have also included various Utah counties.

Jackie Hobson, the marketing and outreach specialist for the Small Business Administration's Utah office in St. George, explained in an email to KSL.com that every drought designation opens a window for applications. When the Piute County declaration came in May, it extended the loan application deadline from Dec. 22 to Jan. 23, 2023, in the affected areas.

Garfield said all loan eligibility is based on any financial impact related to the drought and not any property damage. The loans have an interest rate of 2.935% for businesses and 1.875% for private nonprofit organizations.

"These loans have ... a maximum term of 30 years and are available to small businesses and most private nonprofits without the financial ability to offset the adverse impact without hardship," she said.

Applications for these types of loans can be filed online. All qualifying Utah businesses have until at least Dec. 22 to apply.

Utah's current drought woes began with an unusually dry spring in 2020 that continued into the state's driest year on record. The U.S. Drought Monitor currently lists about 71% of Utah in extreme drought, while 99.9% of the state remains in at least severe drought. The monitor points out that the entire state has remained in at least a moderate drought for well over a year.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox issued a state emergency drought declaration for the second straight year on April 21 with state reservoir levels at only 59% statewide. There's been more snowpack runoff since he signed the order but Utah's reservoirs only remain at about 63% full, according to the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

Long-range forecasts call for hot and dry conditions for most of Utah this summer; however, meteorologists are optimistic that the summer monsoons will return in southern Utah beginning in July, which may help chip away at large precipitation deficits in parts of the state.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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