Jim Murphy & Sons

Water: Can we save some for an unrainy day?

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Story by GEORGE FREEMAN
Analysis by LORING BULLARD

There are surely more ways to measure a drought than we think about in our comfortable worlds.

Though we should not, we take water for granted in the Ozarks. It’s all around us, below us, above us, in our beautiful streams, lakes and falls. It’s as close as a turn of the faucet or the car wash or sprinkler system.

Until the farm pond looks like a dried out golf course bunker, minus the sand. And the well water tastes like sulfur. And dry ground causes your home to creak with mysterious noises in the nighttime when no one is listening except you, making you wonder what might be about to fall.

The livestock don’t have enough to sustain them. Cattlemen are grumpy and thinning their prized herds.

"Generally speaking, water is not priced relative to its value. Lots of people like to say water is free. So is oil, but we pay more for one gallon of gas than 800 gallons of water. Water falls from the sky and springs from the ground – but pipes, pumps, and treatment systems do not."– Roddy Rogers, P.E.
Manager Water Treatment and Supply
City Utilities of Springfield

Hog producers are letting their breed sows go to market. And the market prices are headed down sharply as these majestic animals are sacrificed – for that is exactly what it is. It is a sacrifice we shall all pay for one day.

Subject to irrigation and the whims of Mother Nature, the corn and the soybeans have shriveled in the hottest year on record, and the driest since the 1950s. The cornstalks are so short you couldn’t get lost in a traditional corn maze if you tried.

In Springfield, there’s talk of rationing and a rate increase to "encourage" conservation. Well diggers can’t keep up with requests to dig deeper as wells run dry. The lack of moisture in the ground can cause soil to crack and pull away from homes’ built on concrete bases. Solutions are very expensive.

Springfield pumps up to 15 million gallons of water daily from Stockton Reservoir. Yet only five communities in the Ozarks use surface water for drinking. The water table that most communities rely on for water is 40 feet below normal; soil moisture is 60-72 inches below the surface; annual rainfall is on average 14-16 inches below normal according to Gene Hatch of the National Weather Service.

The last time it was this dry was 1954. Three years after record floods in August of 1951, which led to the creation of flood control reservoirs throughout the Ozarks and the Midwest. me of us really do Some of us remember those days. We lived them. A few of our elders remember the Dust Bowl.

No one can make it rain, although we’ve received better recently. Two inches here, thanks to Hurricane Isaac. Four inches there, more widespread; an inch just in time, but not without winds and power outages.

"In round numbers our average customer pays 45 cents for 100 gallons or $4.50 for 1000 gallons, so 5,000 gallons is roughly $20 to $25."– Roddy Rogers, P.E.
Manager Water Treatment and Supply
City Utilities of Springfield

What we really need is what none of us wants. More rain than the system can handle. To rain our way out of a drought means tilting to the other extreme.

"Generally speaking, water is not priced relative to its value," says Roddy Rogers, Manager Water Treatment and Supply for City Utilities of Springfield. "Lots of people like to say water is free. So is oil, but we pay more for one gallon of gas than 800 gallons of water. Water falls from the sky and springs from the ground – but pipes, pumps, and treatment systems do not."

So this is not really about ending a drought. In fact, some wonder if this is the new normal, the result of climate change, whatever its cause may be.

It’s about conserving water:

  • Using it more wisely.
  • Thinking about how much precious clean water we waste when it could be reused, or not used at all.
  • Planning for how we might "harvest" and store rainfall for a rainy – or "unrainy" – day.
  • What each of us might do with just a bit of encouragement.

It’s about asking our political candidates why we aren’t talking about these issues and their effect on jobs and the economy.
We all know we can do better.

You can be sure that there are naysayers who will say it’s all just fine. It’s the natural way. Keep government out of our lives. Let us live free.

Truth is, we need to rethink what we do know about water, because we don’t know enough. Maybe we need to talk softer and listen louder to those in organizations who manage our water resources. For the most part, they have been thinking, planning and talking amongst themselves on just these issues for years. One of them, Loring Bullard, recently retired from the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks, has proposed a different way of thinking about water.

This isn’t a problem for government to solve. Private business entrepreneurs have been developing products right here in the Ozarks to save water, store it, treat it, test it, and reuse it.

Finally, here are some steps you can take to do your part. Maybe it starts by reading and thinking about our own habits, and making changes. Please don’t stop here.

Your thoughts and reactions are welcome to Editor@Ozarks Living.com.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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