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News Release

USDA Declares Drought Disaster in Puerto Rico

Contact:
Edwin Almodóvar, NRCS-CB Director
787-766-5206 x.115 / 787-370-2703


dry lake bed, courtesy of Mi Puerto Rico Verde

USDA & PR Agencies Hold “Conversatorio de Sequía” to Announce Disaster Assistance Programs for Farmers Impacted by Drought

San Juan, PR, August 7, 2015 – Puerto Rico is in the grip of a drought that is reaching historic proportions. The eastern part of the island has now suffered through over three months without significant rainfall, and nearly 85% of the territory is under a water deficit.

August  4, 2015 US Drought Monitor Map of Puerto RicoCiting reports from the National Weather Service and the U.S. Drought Monitor, and a written request from Congressman Pedro Pierluisi, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack signed Secretarial Disaster Designation S3852 on July 15, 2015, declaring Caguas, Gurabo, Juncos, and San Lorenzo municipalities as primary natural disaster areas due to damages and losses caused by recent drought conditions. Ten additional contiguous municipalities (Aguas Buenas, Canóvanas, Carolina, Cayey, Cidra, Las Piedras, Patillas, San Juan, Trujillo Alto and Yabucoa) were also designated as natural disaster areas. On August 4, Secretary Vilsack added 6 more municipalities to the drought declaration – Aibonito, Arroyo, Coamo, Guayama, Salinas and Santa Isabel.

The initial four municipalities designated as disaster areas were identified by the US Drought Monitor on July 7th as under extreme drought. The August 5th Drought Monitor reports that extreme drought conditions have now extended to all or parts of 20 more municipalities, with the remaining eastern half of Puerto Rico under severe drought. Most of the western half of the island is under moderate drought or abnormally dry conditions, with the exception of the central-western mountain range.

DROUGHT DATA
  • More than 20% of Puerto Rico is under extreme drought and 45% is under severe drought.
  • This is the third driest period in Puerto Rico since 1898. The drought is expected to persist through the end of the year.
  • Puerto Rico is under the strictest water rationing in its history. The island’s main reservoir is shrinking; many areas will receive water only 1 out of every 3 or 4 days.
  • Puerto Rico’s severe drought is forcing businesses to temporarily close, public schools to cancel breakfast service and people to find creative ways to stay clean amid sweltering temperatures, according to the US News & World Report.

I remain concerned about the impact of drought on our farmers and ranchers. Crops are drying out and livestock is being lost,” said Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's resident commissioner in Congress.

Empowered by the disaster declaration, three USDA agencies (Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Rural Development (RD)) joined forces with the PR Department of Agriculture (PRDA) and the PR Economic Development Bank at a July 23rd meeting at the Caguas Regional PRDA office to inform farmers of programs now available to them for disaster assistance.

PR Secretary of Agriculture, Dr. Myrna Comas, notified the 109 attendees that PRDA will provide financial assistance to cover the costs of cattle feed to supplement limited forage. The PR Economic Development Bank announced that special emergency loans will be made available to bring relief to drought-stricken farmers.

USDA and PRDA officials meet with Caguas area farmers to discuss drought relief-072315

PR Agriculture Secretary, Dr. Myrna Comas (standing, right), speaks to 109 farmers in Caguas about drought assistance as NRCS Caribbean Area Director Almodóvar (left, sitting) takes notes.

FSA representatives described their programs that are activated by the disaster designation, including the Emergency Conservation Program; the Livestock Forage Disaster Program; the Livestock Indemnity Program; the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program; and the Tree Assistance Program. FSA also provides low-interest Emergency Loans in addition to their regular loans and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

NRCS Caribbean Area Director, Edwin Almodóvar, implored farmers to use conservation practices on their farms so that they can better respond to drought events. “Here in the Caribbean Area, the effects of climate change make us more vulnerable than other areas of the world. We will be facing many climate-related issues in the upcoming years that will change the way farmers manage their land. Here in the islands we face wildfires, salt water intrusion of our aquifers from sea level rise, droughts, African dust, Sargasso seaweed invasions, unpredictable weather – all traits of climate change. NRCS is here to help farmers adapt to climate change by conserving water and addressing resource concerns,” said Director Almodóvar.

Caguas District Conservationist, José Santiago, detailed the Conservation Technical Assistance and Environmental Quality Incentive programs that are available year-round to help farmers. He explained the steps to request assistance from NRCS and showed farmers examples of different conservation practices to help conserve resources. Finally, RD staff described the Rural Energy for America Program that offers grants and loans to agricultural producers for renewable energy and energy efficiency, and their Value Added Producer Grants. These RD programs are not limited to a disaster designation, and application periods are announced throughout the year. 

For more information about USDA assistance, call FSA at 787-743-2203 x 102/106, NRCS at 787-743-2743 x 109/111/114 or RD at 787-766-5095 x 151, or visit www.pr.nrcs.usda.gov.

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