As the last drops of water left Magic Reservoir recently, Lincoln County farmers who cultivate the 33,000 acres irrigated by water from the Big Wood River were wondering how they were going to survive another year of drought.
Dan Durand, 44, was getting ready to spend July and part of August working in canneries in Pennsylvania and California.Leaving home is not something he would do in a normal summer. But, Durand said, "There's not going to be much to do around here once it burns up."
Like most of the 300 farmers who rely on the reservoir for irrigation, Durand had only enough water for one hay harvest this year. He hopes to earn enough money to buy the hay he will need to feed his 40 milk cows and 25 sheep.
The flow of irrigation water from the reservoir, built in 1909, stopped Saturday morning. The reservoir, in a normal year, provides area farmers 300,000 acre-feet of irrigation water.
This year they received only 40,000 acre-feet, Big Wood River Canal Co. manager Dick Oneida said.
Aside from paying for feed, the farmers still have to pay an $11.75-per-acre irrigation maintenance and operating fee--water or not.
Larry Deeds, 44, is not able to look elsewhere for work. Deeds has 60 head of cattle, including 30 milk cows, on his farm north of Richfield.
"If you have milk cows, you can't do it," he said. "You have to be there to take care of the cows every day."
The Big Wood irrigation water may be turned back on for a few days in August, Oneida said, if more can be accumulated in the meantime.
"Our inflow has dropped to practically nothing right now," he said.
Fortunately, the farmers expected this summer would be a dry one, and many took advantage of federal programs sponsored by the Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service, said Judy Black, the service's Lincoln County director.
But, while the farmers say the programs help, the federal money might not reach them soon enough to pay for feed. Some of them are just receiving disaster money from last year.
"There's not much to do about it," Durand said of the drought. "You just live with it. At least we got one cutting of hay."