By Parija Kavilanz/CNNMoney
Farmers, boating companies and restaurants are among the growing number of small businesses reeling from the worst drought to hit the United States in 12 years.
Austin, Texas, is one of them affected by the drought. The water level in Austin’s popular Lake Travis is about 45-feet below full, said Pat Roth, operations director with Just for Fun Watercraft rental, a 50-employee business which rents house boats, speed boats and jet skis to use on the lake.
Word has spread quickly as far as Houston about Lake Travis’ drought and falling water table. And it’s hurting business, said Roth.
“We had a booth at the annual boat show in Houston last month. We were trying to hand out information about our boats but people were waving us off saying ‘Y’all don’t have any water in that lake,’” because of the drought conditions.
So the company this year canceled its Fourth of July fireworks over the lake. “It was unfortunate. That’s a great event for us. Lots of people come out and rent boats for the night,” he said.
It’s déjà vu for Roth. Just for Fun suffered sluggish business because of a drought last year too. “We survived that but here we are again,” he said.
Business is down 30% to 40% so far but the company hasn’t applied for a disaster loan, he said. They’re still hoping things will turn around.
“It’s silly. The lake is over 600 feet deep. If it’s down 45 feet from full, that’s not much but people get nervous and don’t want to take a boat out.”
The company’s owners also own a restaurant by the lake, Carlos ‘n Charlie’s that benefits from the boaters said Roth.
“The restaurant is on a hill. You can drive your boat over, park it and climb up to it,” Roth said. But the lake’s receding shoreline isn’t allowing boats to get close enough to park. “It’s hurting business over there, too,” he said.
While a federal declaration signals the growing seriousness of the situation, there is a silver lining for area small businesses affected.
Once a region is declared a disaster area by the government, it allows federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration to then offer loans to affected small businesses.
The USDA offers loans to agricultural businesses while the SBA disaster loans are for non-farm businesses.
The SBA gives businesses a nine-month window to apply for its disaster loans.
Since the loans are received, assessed and approved on a rolling basis, the agency isn’t yet able to say how many requests it has received as a result of this year’s drought, said Carol Chestang, spokeswoman for the SBA.
But she said the SBA approved about $9 million in drought disaster loans to businesses in the Midwest last year.
A spokesperson for the USDA declined to say how many drought-related loan requests were approved in its current fiscal year which runs through September.
However, the spokesperson said the agency so far has approved a 279 disaster loans that also include drought-related loans, totaling $28.5 million…”