(RGJ.COM) – Federal officials have designated portions of 11 western and central states as primary natural disaster areas because of a drought.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement Wednesday includes counties in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma and California.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that he sympathizes with farmers and ranchers who are dealing with the lack of rain and snow, and assured them that the USDA will stand by them.
The designation means eligible farmers can qualify for low-interest emergency loans from the Agriculture Department.
Counties adjacent to those that are affected also are eligible for assistance.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal website that tracks drought, reports that while storms have dumped rain and snow in the East, droughts are persisting or intensifying in the West.
The worst states for drought are California, Oregon and Nevada, the monitor reported. More than 62% of the state of California is now in “extreme” drought, the state’s highest percentage since the Drought Monitor began in Jan. 2000.
Extreme drought is the second-worst category of drought.
The entire state of Oregon is now completely in a drought, while the state of Nevada is just under 97%.
The monitor added that mountain snowpacks in the Sierra Nevada range continued to dwindle, with snow water equivalent averaging between 10% and 30% of normal.
Contributing; Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
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Read the original story: Drought parches West; 11 states declared disaster areas