Numbers show just how serious drought damage is

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

It's one of those things you would just as soon not know.

The problem is, Washington needs to know how bad Nebraska's drought is if there's any chance for producers to receive part of a $4 billion aid package for states hit by drought.

Sen. Ben Nelson probably had the right idea in naming the ongoing drought -- "Drought David" -- to compare the damage to that caused by hurricanes, but the idea hasn't gained much traction.

So Nebraska's Climate Assessment Response Committee is tallying up the damage.

About a third of a billion dollars. That's taking more than $200 out of the state's economy for each Nebraska resident.

Meeting in Lincoln on Tuesday, the committee learned that Nebraska has about $342 million in losses this year, including $70 million in a bad winter wheat crop, and an estimated $193 million in pasture damage.

Multiply that third of a billion dollars over the six years of the drought, and the amount of loss is almost overwhelming.

And, it doesn't count the "multiplier" effect on local economies resulting from loss of seed and fertilizer sales, farm equipment, vehicles and everything else farmers and those who support them.

Not to mention the millions of dollars already lost in wildfires in north central and northwest Nebraska, as well as the cost of fighting them.

Fires continued this week in northwest Nebraska, with firefighters from 13 agencies struggling to control blazes in canyons on federal and private land in Dawes County and near Crawford.

Unfortunately, the situation isn't likely to improve next year, according to State Climatologist Al Dutcher.

"It appears, at least to me, that there's not a very high probability of snowpack recovery this year," Dutcher told the Lincoln Journal Star.

Nebraskans are proud of their self-reliance, quick to help others in need, and slow to accept help unless they really need it. Unfortunately, it's looking more and more like it's one of those times when many of us really need it.

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