Our Opinion: Keep informed to reduce risks from heat, drought

The prolonged drought in Missouri has intensified from aggravation to emergency.

We can do nothing about the weather, but public officials can muster resources to promote public health, assist agriculture and minimize fire risk.

Credit Gov. Jay Nixon with separate actions Monday and Tuesday in response to protracted drought and high temperatures.

A state of emergency was ordered Monday by the governor to activate the State Emergency Operations Plan. The order authorizes state agencies to assist local jurisdictions with relief efforts.

On Tuesday, Nixon followed up by enhancing an assistance plan for farmers to provide water for crops and livestock.

The emergency plan will increase, from 75 percent to 90 percent, an agricultural cost-sharing program to drill or deepen wells. Water projects must assist crops or livestock and cannot harm the public water supply.

The governor also established a task force of employees from two state agencies to process applications, which must be submitted by Aug. 6.

These and other initiatives are designed to help farmers today and to ease the sting of higher prices at supermarkets in the future.

In signing Monday’s order, Nixon pledged “to continue to work with public health officials, public safety officials and agricultural leaders to alleviate the impact of the heat and drought.”

That impact includes other immediate concerns — namely, fire hazards and heat-related deaths.

The Missouri Highway Patrol renewed an advisory warning motorists not to discard cigarettes from vehicles. The offense is punishable by a fine and/or jail time, and — if the action causes a fire — additional criminal charges may be filed.

The patrol also warned motorists to report smoke and to avoid driving in areas where smoke reduces visibility. The risk of chain-reaction collisions in smoky conditions has been well-documented.

Finally, continued high temperatures are taking a deadly toll.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has confirmed 25 heat-related deaths in the Missouri, including 20 in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The agency also has compiled hospital reports showing 829 heat-related emergency department visits from May 1 through July 22.

We may be unable to alter the weather, but we can equip ourselves with information about resources available to help us reduce risks.

Additional information and links for drought-related topics from federal, state and local sources is available via the News Tribune Facebook page.

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