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Too much, too late?

Staff writers

Despite heavy rain this week that was so intense, it caused street flooding in some places, it may take months of rainy weather to correct the extreme drought currently afflicting Marion County.

Private wells and ponds throughout the county have gone dry.

In Pilsen, Jim and Norma Horinek’s well went dry a month ago. They are using water from an old cistern for their goats, chickens, and pets.

They are drinking bottled water and sometimes are getting water from their neighbor, Eugene Vinduska.

“We are having a new well drilled, but that won’t happen until next week,” Norma Horinek said.

Danny Rudolph of Lincolnville has been hauling water to four pastures.

Water is available from such places as the city of Marion, which gets its water from Marion Reservoir.

City administrator Roger Holter said rural residents whose wells had run dry were obtaining water at the city’s water plant for household use.

Fire department tankers have been used to fill cisterns at several residences in Pilsen.

“The water is treated, and customers pay the same rate as city residents,” Holter said. “I heard that some people were running hoses from the neighbors to get water.

“We keep watching the drought map because our water supply is Marion Reservoir, and the levels continue to drop. We’re still in a prolonged drought for several more months. It could get worse before it gets better, but this rain definitely helps.”

Farmers can purchase bulk water from Cooperative Grain and Supply in Marion for their livestock.

Speaking to county commissioners Monday, leaders of county fire departments pleaded with residents to conserve water.

Spokesman Matt Voth of the Goessel fire department said dried-up ponds and wells would be a significant challenge if a large fire broke out in a rural area, exhausting water reserves.

“It’d be very tight if we were to have a large fire in one district, then refilling for the next day,” he said.

Brett Hajek, speaking for firefighters from Lost Springs, said they were concerned about a fire breaking out in the Flint Hills, where many small ponds are empty.

“We would have to haul water from a long distance,” he said.

Even where ponds still have some water in them, firefighters said, most have receded so far that equipment couldn’t get to them and are so filled with moss that pumping from them would plug up firefighters’ equipment.

Firefighters had been prepared to ask the county to impose a ban on burning Monday.

They backed off after recent rains but said one or two days of warm, windy weather could lead them to want to issue a ban on short notice.

Not only are ponds running dry, groundwater levels are very low.

Voth said city wells in Goessel had been pumping overtime, up to 20 hours a day, to fill the town’s water tower, and one of the wells is close to “sucking air.”

After the state issued a drought declaration for the county more than a week ago, the Army Corps of Engineers obtained permission to allow ranchers to draw water from Marion Reservoir.

However, office manager Torey Hett said the reservoir hadn’t received any applications yet.

Commission chairman Dianne Novak questioned whether it might be time to stop farms that were pumping irrigation water from area creeks and rivers to ensure sufficient supply for humans, animals, and fire protection.

“We need to be maintaining and being very judicious,” Novak said.

Marion County is among 43 counties that have been authorized by the USDA Farm Service Agency to approve emergency haying and grazing of conservation reserve program acres. Haying is permitted until Aug. 15, and grazing is permitted until Sept. 30.

To take advantage of emergency grazing, authorized producers can use CRP acreage for their own livestock or may grant another livestock producer use of it.

Eligible producers must request approval through the local FSA. Participants are limited to one hay cutting and are not permitted to sell any of it.

Last modified July 18, 2018

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