High and dry: 62 of Colorado's 64 counties qualify for drought disaster relief

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The hottest summer on record could also be one of the driest. At the end of June, Governor John Hickenlooper requested that much of this dry, dry state be declared a federal disaster area because of "drought, low snow pack, excessive heat, and high winds" that had started on January 1...with no end in sight. And Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's decision came quickly.

On Tuesday afternoon, he approved federal disaster relief for 62 of Colorado's 64 counties because of drought conditions:

The Department of Agriculture has reviewed the Loss Assessment Reports and has determined that there were sufficient production losses in 62 counties to warrant a Secretarial disaster designation. Therefore, I am designating all Colorado counties, except Delta and San Juan counties, as primary disaster areas due to losses caused by drought, excessive heat, and high winds that occurred from Jan. 1, 2012, and continuing.

"We are very grateful for Secretary Vilsack's speedy review of our request," Hickenlooper said Tuesday. "This federal disaster declaration will give farmers and ranchers in Weld County and nearly every other part of the state much needed relief."

According to the governor's office, counties typically must meet certain crop loss criteria to qualify for federal disaster assistance. This year, because of severe drought conditions across the state, the Colorado Department of Agriculture worked with the local USDA Farm Service Agency office in seeking a disaster designation before each county shows the minimum crop loss.

And dry conditions aren't the only problem plaguing Colorado farmers. This week Hickenlooper also sent a letter to Vilsack requesting freeze disaster designation for Mesa and Montrose counties because of freezing temperatures on April 7 and 8. "Mesa County suffered an estimated loss of 30 percent in grapes," the governor wrote, "while Montrose County has an estimated 85 percent loss of sweet cherries."

That's bad news for farmers -- and also consumers of Western Slope fruit.

And temperatures could hit 100 again today. There are still cool spots and events in Colorado. See Governor John Hickenlooper's bucket list for 2012 here.

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