The Board of Supervisors voted to ask Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) to petition the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to declare Loudoun a drought disaster area. Such a designation would make USDA emergency assistance programs available to Loudoun’s farmers.
"Anyone who drives around western Loudoun and just looks out the window of their car can see that the situation is rather dire," Supervisors Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said. "What is normally green fields are brown, burned."
In a document presented to the board during the Monday, Aug. 6, special meeting, county staff estimated that the total loss to the agricultural industry since January 2007 to be almost $25 million. Included in that loss is approximately 1,080,000 pounds of beef cows and 45 percent of the yield on the county’s approximately 57,700 acres of hay land.
Corey Childs of the Cooperative Extension Office, said some of the total loss will not be known until the crops, such as corn and soybeans, are harvested.
"Some of the numbers are based on past production or what the average is for those acres," he said.
Burton, however, said he has heard first hand from farmers in the Blue Ridge District just how bad the situation is.
"I have a constituent who has 500 head [of cattle] on 1,000 acres and only has three weeks of hay left," he said. "He doesn’t know what he is going to do."
WHILE NONE OF the supervisors voted against the action, two members of the board questioned the statistics presented by county staff and the way in which the money would allocated by the federal government.
Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) said he wanted to know more about the number of people who have contacted the county to complain about their agriculture problems and Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) said he was concerned about the process of giving out federal assistance. Delgaudio also asked for the total number of farmers who requested assistance in 1999, the last time Loudoun requested help from the federal government because of a drought.
If the USDA declares Loudoun a drought disaster area, farmers will still have to apply for the federal aid and prove their crop losses.
"Not every farmer is going to qualify," Childs said.
FOLLOWING THE ACTION, Dale Hammes, general manager of the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority, presented the board with information about the water levels in Goose Creek.
"Loudoun is in a significant drought according to NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]," he said. "We haven’t seen the condition of Goose Creek like this since 1999 when there was a severe drought."
Hammes said that Fairfax County, who gets some of its water supply from the Goose Creek, is now taking its water from a different supply, to leave the low-running Goose Creek for Loudoun to use.
The LCSA is also encouraging Loudoun residents to use good water practices to try and save the water supply, including inspecting and repairing all water leaks, using a commercial car wash, which recycles water, and following the odd/even rule, where even numbers houses water their lawns on even days and odd numbered houses water on odd days.
"These are measures that are prudent at this time," Hammes said. "We will continue to monitor and come back to you with an update."
Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) said the issues in Loudoun are apparent to everyone.
"The bottom line here is that Loudoun is burning," he said. "You may not be able to see the smoke, but crops are just turning brown and falling over."