In Face of Drought, County to Seek Federal Aid

By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted in a special meeting Monday night to ask Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to petition the federal government for drought relief for the county.

The board voted 7 to 0, with Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) absent and Supervisor Steven J. Snow (R-Dulles) abstaining, to write a letter to Kaine requesting that he ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare the county a drought disaster area. If the designation is approved, Loudoun farmers with drought-related losses could be eligible for low-cost federal loans.

The effort was initiated by Supervisor James Burton (I-Blue Ridge), who asked board Chairman Scott K. York (I) to write to the governor. County officials said that Loudoun's agricultural industry is facing $24 million in lost revenue this year from heat and low rainfall. Corn and soybean farmers will experience revenue losses of up to 50 percent this year, and hay and alfalfa farmers will experience a 45 percent revenue loss, according to figures provided to the board by county staff members.

In the discussion before the vote, Snow questioned the estimates on crop losses and suggested that farmers might overstate their losses to receive federal aid. Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) echoed Snow's concerns and asked that staff members determine who received federal aid when the county was declared a drought disaster area in 1999.

Corey Childs, director of the county's extension office, said that most of his information on this year's crop losses came from phone calls and e-mails from farmers. He said he could provide a log of only his most recent telephone calls.

Delgaudio said he also didn't believe that there are 30,000 cows in the county, a figure the county's extension office provided in the board's agenda packet. Childs urged Delgaudio to take a look around western Loudoun.

The measure otherwise drew support from board members. Burton called the situation in western Loudoun dire. "What are normally green fields are brown," he said.

Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) echoed Burton's comments, saying he had spoken with farmers whose crops are struggling. "The bottom line is . . . Loudoun is burning. The yield is going to be greatly devastated," Tulloch said.

Also on Monday, county officials approved a request from the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority to formally declare a water shortage alert in Loudoun. The alert asks customers to reduce water usage as much as possible, examine all plumbing and repair any leaks.

Authority spokeswoman Samantha Villegas said the voluntary restrictions will become mandatory if water levels do not improve by September.

She said the daily flow in the Goose Creek watershed, which accounts for one-third of the authority's water supply, was measured recently at 5 million gallons, compared with the normal daily flow of 32 million gallons in early August. Rainfall in the watershed from January through June was about the lowest it has been for that period in any year in the last four decades, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The water level in Beaverdam Reservoir, which serves as a backup to the Goose Creek watershed, is down to 38 percent of the reservoir's capacity.

Villegas said that the authority, which has 55,000 customers in Loudoun, will consider mandatory restrictions if the water level in Beaverdam is below 50 percent of capacity and if water flow in Goose Creek continues to fall.

The authority is asking customers to follow the odd-even rule, watering their lawns on odd- or even-numbered days depending on whether their address is an odd or even number. Villegas said that water consumption generally drops by 25 percent when residents use that system.

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