County Declares Drought A Crisis

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What the Rim country needs, says National Weather Service Observer Anna Mae Deming, is a few good rain dancers to bring much-needed moisture to the parched pines of the Payson area.

Until the Cavalry shows up, however, Gila County is in a drought emergency, as declared by the Board of Supervisors in a resolution passed this week.

"We've been in drought mode for the last four or five years," District 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen said Wednesday. "This year, the statistics indicate the worst year we've had since records have been kept. I think we're running at like 75 percent below the average year for precipitation."

By declaring the emergency, Gila County is eligible for state and federal assistance under the Federal Disaster Relief Act, Christensen said.

"What this really does is free up the opportunity for the National Guard to bring equipment in, to station water tankers and other firefighting equipment around the county, things like that," the supervisor said.

Pat Velasco, fire management officer for the Payson Ranger District, said this year is one of the driest in U.S. Forest Service records.

"Compared to the year of the Dude Fire, in 1990, we're even below the moisture we had then," Velasco said.

The day after Gila County's declaration, Gov. Jane Hull followed suit with a statewide drought declaration. Hull's declaration gets forwarded to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and if Secretary Dan Glickman agrees drought conditions exist, he could call upon the Internal Revenue Service to provide tax relief to affected ranchers.

Tonto Basin rancher Dale Cline said it's too soon to determine if he'll be hard hit this summer.

"I'm doing OK this summer, but not everybody is," Cline said. "Some of the ranchers have started removing cattle and selling to survive. If it doesn't rain in July and August, I'll probably have to cut back, too."

Cline said he's been ranching on Tonto for 45 years, and has seen these conditions before.

"These dry spells usually run in five-year cycles," he said. "It started to get dry here in 1996. Every year is different, so it's hard to say what will happen.

"I've been through two or three of these in the past," the optimistic rancher said, "and it always turns around to a wet cycle."

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