No one knows better than farmers how unpredictable weather can be. Weather predictions, like economic predictions, are notoriously unreliable. That said, according to several reports, the drought of 2012 seems to be overstaying its welcome into 2013.
In fact, more than 60% of the contiguous United States remains in a drought as we begin 2013. And according to Fred Gesser, senior agricultural meteorologist for Planalytics, Inc., “There is a 70% probability for last year’s drought to linger into 2013.”
The impact of the current drought is being felt now. According to a report in Drovers, a small farming town in Oklahoma (Wapanucka) lost water supply completely when the spring-fed wells in the community ran dry.
The dry weather is potentially a very serious issue as farmers look toward the growing season, and as they look to maintain water needs for livestock.
With this as a backdrop, I asked Dr. Michael Sklash, our senior hydrogeologist, a few questions relating to groundwater supply and agriculture. Mike has worked on groundwater supply issues for agriculture around the world, including crop and livestock farmers in the Midwestern United States.
Is there a way to evaluate whether my aquifer is currently stressed?
Sklash: Have any of your wells run dry at any time? Has the water level in your well fallen significantly? Have you had to lower your pump intake? Have there been any changes in water quality? These are all potential indications of a stressed aquifer.
Assuming worst case scenario (a continuing drought), are there any proactive measures I can take?
Sklash: Beyond looking at the specific crop types and depending on your needs (watering crops or water for livestock), you can consider the following:
• Horizontal wells
• Deeper wells
• Capture storm water and snow melt (in a retention pond)
• Optimize irrigation
• Focus your irrigation
• Cultivate to minimize surface runoff
How should I respond when asked if my agricultural water use is negatively impacting private wells?
Sklash: This isn’t always a simple cause-effect relationship, for example:
• The wells may be in different aquifers.
• The private wells may be shallow enough to be affected directly by less rainfall recharge. Water tables typically fluctuate by a few feet in many areas in the Midwest. A drought will only make the typical annual low levels lower.
• The wells may be too far apart to have a cause-effect relationship.
• There may be other water users causing the problem.
Finally, if you are considering siting a new agricultural operation, a water supply evaluation should be a high-priority consideration early in your decision making process.
As we write this newsletter (in late January), but for a recent unseasonable storm in the eastern half of the United States, the conditions are still very dry. While we all hope for a break in the precipitation pattern, consider some of the suggestions provided above to ease the impact of the ongoing drought.
If you have questions specific to groundwater or groundwater supply, please contact Mike Sklash (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 248-932-0228.