'I have to take care of the cattle, either sell or get water'

Monday, January 30, 2006

Farmers hard hit by the drought that has plagued the area since late summer have resorted to hauling water from other sources to keep their operations going.

Luckily, local firefighters are aiding the effort by hauling city water to rural farmers on a volunteer basis.

Tommy Wallace says he is one of the farmers benefiting from their generosity.

"I'd been hauling water for three months," said Wallace, who manages a cattle farm for his sister, Hellena Billeman, located near Urbanette.

"I was hauling myself, with a little 250-gallon tank in the back of my pickup, using a garden hose at my Berryville home.

"Then I found out the fire department was doing it. I called and they usually delivered the same day. I've had three or four loads delivered by them.

"They are real good about doing it," he continued. "I trimmed the brush along the road so it wouldn't scratch up their truck. They charge me $50 for a load of 3,000 gallons that they unload in the two ponds. It's gracious of them to do it.

"Otherwise," he added, "I don't know what farmers would do -- maybe like me, they would haul little loads. And, that's no fun. I have to take care of the cattle, either sell or get water."

Doug Johnson, deputy fire chief for the Berryville Fire Department, said volunteer firefighters have delivered more than 300,000 gallons during the past several months.

He said the department serves farmers in its fire service area and charges them $50 for delivery of 3,000 gallons.

Johnson said he has personally delivered "a lot" of loads, and the department has hauled more than 100 loads since the drought began several months ago.

"There's seven or eight of us firefighters doing it," he said. "It all depends on who gets the call."

Since the volunteer firefighters all work regular jobs, he said they usually receive and respond to requests individually when time is available.

The department's tanker truck is filled at the fire house hydrant, he said, and driven to the farm.

"It's just a help to the farmer," he said. "They are hurting. And, there is no private company that delivers water here that I know of."

Green Forest firefighters have been providing a similar service.

Fire Chief Chris Trask said he doesn't know how many loads his department has delivered in an attempt to help farmers.

"We've all gone to different farms," he said. "We fill at different hydrants around town. Firefighters do it on their own time, and it varies, depending on their work schedule."

Trask said their policy is to charge $25 for a 2,500 gallon load. They service those in their fire district, using one of the department's three tanker trucks.

Trask said the department pays the city for the water used, and routes the remainder to the fire department account, which isn't much considering fuel costs, something Trask said he's been watching.

On the upside, the chief said it's good to run the tankers so they don't sit idle, and it helps the farmers.

The situation is expected to continue until substantial rainfall is received.

The lack of rainfall in recent months has been significant, said Carroll Allison, who operates a National Weather Service reporting station from his Green Forest home.

He said only 3.87 inches of precipitation fell during the last three months of 2005 -- far short of the 16.61 inches received during that same period the previous year.

The lack of rainfall has caused ponds and springs to dry up and shallow wells to quit producing.

Mike Shudy, with Shudy Drilling, said he's been busier than usual drilling new wells where springs have gone dry and where shallow wells have quit producing adequate water.

"I'm keeping up, but it's busier than usual," Shudy said. "I see more of it in the Berryville-Green Forest area due to farming, but there are ponds going dry in Eureka Springs, where shallow wells are also going dry. Mostly though, it's the farms."

When drilling a new well, Shudy says he has to go deeper to reach the Roubidoux aquifer than he did 11 years ago when he first started drilling. He attributes that, in part, to the number of commercial poultry farms now drawing from the aquifer.

"They drill to the Roubidoux most of the time," he said. Shudy also noted that it reportedly takes seven years for variations in rainfall amounts to affect the Roubidoux, meaning drought conditions may not be fully realized for years.

Although Shudy says he's glad to be busy, he wishes it were because of new home construction rather than hardship.

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