Merced County’s declaration of a state of emergency was more than just taking note of the obvious. We all know it’s dry, and it’s clear there will be costs to anyone who depends on the ag economy – and that’s all of us, in one fashion or another.
What the declaration does is put Merced in a position to quickly take advantage of any state or federal programs that might be developed to help mitigate what could be devastating effects of this unprecedented drought. Without such a declaration, the county might be delayed in participating in some of the programs President Barack Obama announced during his visit to Fresno and Los Banos two weeks ago – including the $100 million in relief funds for livestock ranchers, $5 million for conservation projects and $15 million for the hardest-hit areas.
Every farmer is worried about an immediate future with little or no water. But there are other programs – $60 million for food banks in the Valley and $3 million for communities running out of drinking water – that could help people beyond the farm gate once such a declaration is made.
“Yes, the declaration is to position us for programs if state and federal funding becomes available at some point,” said county spokesman Mike North.
How much of an impact does the county expect from the drought?
“That’s hard to put a number on at this point,” North said. “But we know there will be significant impact. And we want to be ready.”
One area that will likely hit the county particularly hard is unemployment. North said there has already been an uptick in inquiries to the county’s Workforce Investment program. Without rain, that could could turn into a tidal wave.
At this point, North said, the county is monitoring state and federal legislation for helpful programs. The emergency declaration puts the county in a position to apply as funds become available. “We just wanted to make sure that we’re not missing anything,” he said. “A lot of times if you don’t have something in place, you can miss out.”
There’s a slim chance we’ll get substantially more rain, but even if we do, 2013-14 will still go down as one of the driest years in the history of the state. If we don’t, it will be the driest. Declaring an emergency is an important step. It was not premature. We hope it helps.