MADISON, Wis. - Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency in 42 southern Wisconsin counties Monday due to drought or abnormally dry conditions as the state continues to suffer from a brutal heat wave and lack of rain.
It's the first time such a declaration has been made since 2009. That one was issued for northern counties in August, much later in the growing season.
Monday's declaration is good for 60 days and allows for speeding up the issuance of permits for farmers to temporarily use stream or lake water for irrigation. The state Department of Natural Resources must inspect the stream or lake in question within 72 hours of the request to make sure no fish or other aquatic life will be harmed.
The U.S. Drought Monitor listed all or portions of 14 southern Wisconsin counties as experiencing a moderate drought as of its latest map dated July 3. All or portions of 23 counties are listed as abnormally dry.
Being abnormally dry means an area is experiencing short-term dry conditions that are slowing planting and the growth of crops or pastures. Fire risks are above average.
Moderate drought means some damage to crops and pastures has been reported and the risk for fires is high. It also means streams, reservoirs, or wells are low and some water shortages may be developing or are imminent.
"The lack of rainfall since May in the southern half of the state has hit hard in a crucial part of the growing season," Walker said in a statement.
According to the latest weekly Drought Monitor report from Thursday, 45 percent of top soil in west-central Wisconsin was rated as very short or short. That was up from 7 percent the previous week. In central Wisconsin, 74 percent of top soil was short or very short, nearly double the prior week. And in southwest Wisconsin, 82 percent of top soil was very short or short, up from 75 percent.
Walker encouraged farmers to report crop conditions to their local U.S. Farm Service Agency office. That information can be used for Walker to request a federal disaster declaration, which could make low-cost emergency loans and other assistance available.
"These farm families are suffering under the stress and worry, but this is also a matter of statewide importance," Walker said, noting agriculture is a vital sector of Wisconsin's economy, pumping $59 billion into the state every year and accounting for 354,000 jobs.
Fields are dried out across southern Wisconsin and high temperatures in recent days have proved to be punishing both for livestock and farm workers, according to the state office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
In Madison, only 0.35 inches of rain was reported in all of June, breaking the previous record low of 0.59 inches set more than 100 years ago in 1895.
Monday's disaster declaration covers the following counties: Adams, Brown, Buffalo, Calumet, Clark, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Fond Du Lac, Grant, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jackson, Jefferson, Juneau, Kenosha, Kewaunee, La Crosse, Lafayette, Marquette, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Monroe, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Portage, Racine, Richland, Rock, Sauk, Sheboygan, Trempealeau, Vernon, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, Waupaca, Waushara, Winnebago, and Wood.