A bad year for water

It's already been a bad year for water. It's been either piling up as snow in places that haven't seen snow in decades, inundating regions that are used to snow, but not this much, such as Indiana, until residents are screaming for mercy, or flooding huge regions. Or else there simply isn't any at all, and the world is drying up and blowing away.

Even the mighty Thames is overflowing its banks. Gigantic storms, one after the other, have been battering the British Isles, leaving horrific flooding and tragedy in their wake.

The Limerick Leader shared the story of 57-year-old Ger Hogan, who spent a whole day ferrying at least 200 people out of an area known as St. Mary's Park. He used his horses and wagon to get them to high ground. Ongoing heavy rains had forced the Shannon River out of its banks and stranded them far from safety.

The flooding is so severe that a photo showed one horse wading calmly through so much water that he had to raise his head quite high to keep his nose out of it, with the wagon in over its wheels.

"I had to drop them off near enough Keane's shop, where it was dry," Hogan said. "There was no other way for them to get in and out -- the water was up to the horse's belly, 4 feet or 5 feet easily. I had children and elderly people, teenagers, all sorts up on it."

When one horse tired under the harsh conditions, Hogan simply rode it to the stable and brought out another. He and his horses also hauled sandbags to endangered areas.

In Somerset, England, many farms are entirely under water and have been for many weeks. As cattle are rescued from flooded fields, they are sent to market, as there is no place to put them and no feed to give them. Farmers with higher ground have been teaming up to pay top price for the animals involved, to give at least a small boost to their former owners.

So many donations have poured in to some clothing, food and household goods collecting points that they were overwhelmed and had to pause collections.

According to the Western Daily Press, a convoy of farm tractors is setting off to travel 225 miles to provide silage, hay, haylage, straw and other aid to beleaguered farmers in the Somerset Levels area. It is said that flooding has been going on there since Christmas. Fuel for the rigs is being paid for by other farmers in the region. In fact, enough feed to fill the first 16-plus-ton trailer was gathered in just one day.

One of the participating farmers, Phillip Rowbottom said, "Hopefully our journey will help highlight the solidarity we all feel with those farmers in Somerset who are facing such tough times. We hope drivers will give us a hoot on their horns when they see us en route to spur us on."

It is at once saddening, yet heartening, to read the pleas of people from the region as they use social media to coordinate relief efforts.

Here are a few quotes gleaned from message boards on the topic:

"The children have been evacuated but have several animals and don't know what to do, if water continues to rise."

"Hi, my friend has some wheelbarrows that have been kindly donated; she is able to come up tonight, where would be best to deliver these to please?"

"I was wondering if anyone would like me to contact all the animal/livestock feed manufacturers to try and get some free tonnage of animal feed to help the farmers out?"

Meanwhile more storms threaten the area, and an arctic blast is expected to send temperatures in some parts as low as 5 degrees F. It is hard to imagine what hardships freezing temperatures will bring to the flooded regions.

On the other side of the water story are the places that have too little of it. Though the result is less dramatic it is just as devastating. According to some sources, despite small amounts of rain trickling in here and there, California is beginning to resemble a dust bowl. Seems as if the Midwest has gotten all of its precipitation this winter and California is panting for water.

According to Climate Progress, the state produces nearly half our nation's fruit, nuts and vegetables, to the tune of $44 billion annually. However, it is so dry there that The New York Times reports that the floor of the Central Valley, long known as America's fruit basket, is falling as much as a foot a year in some places, as the water underneath is pumped away.

The need for water in the Golden State affects other states as well. We have heard of farmers in Colorado who may not even try to plant crops this summer as the struggle for water unfolds between the states. Compacts and treaties among western states and Mexico allocate water to various areas by a system of percentages. Besides providing water to farms in western states the Colorado River system feeds many municipalities in California and other states as well.

If there is less than enough rainfall and snowpack in the western mountains, which fill the rivers that feed the region, there is less water for each entity.

Unfortunately some urban dwellers are fiddling while Rome burns, or perhaps watering while the state turns into a desert. The New York Times, a notably urban-centric paper, derided the use of the scarce and valuable resource for watering California lawns: "Gov. Jerry Brown has called on all Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent, but residential lawns, seeded each year with winter rye grass, continue to glow in brilliant, bright-green hues, kept alive by sprinkler systems that are activated in the dark of night."

Perhaps the lawn-watering culprits could move to certain parts of England, where watering is entirely unnecessary, and spare their local supply for food production. Meanwhile, as essential as water is, it can sure cause problems.

Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS

is a regular columnist. She blogs

at http://northviewdiary.blogspot.com/