The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has issued a “drought watch” for much of the state’s Susquehanna basin including Dauphin, Lebanon, and Perry Counties—plus those counties to their north. Residents are asked to conserve water in the affected areas.
Water conservation measures are voluntary during a drought watch, and most consumers try to cut back on nonessential use. For many though, threats to water supply and water quality generate little concern. This evening, on this farm along a Dauphin County waterway undergoing restoration, we shouldn’t be too surprised to see lots of water being pumped from the creek to soak down liquid manure that was spread on the fields earlier in the week. This happens to be the only property along a five-mile segment of stream that still allows cattle and draft horses to wade, defecate, and urinate in the water. It is the only parcel for nearly seven miles that has eroding banks of legacy sediments that are maintained denuded of nearly all vegetation. Despite some beneficial practices like the use of cover crops, it’s a polluter. And now its operator appears to be engaged in something new: “stream dewatering”. With three irrigation guns in operation, this farmer was easily pumping and removing up to one half or more of the creek’s flow, which at the time, according to a United States Geological Survey gauge less than a mile upstream, was only about 3 cubic feet per second or 1,100 gallons per minute (G.P.M.). That doesn’t let much for the municipalities downstream that rely upon this waterway as a supplemental source of drinking water, does it? Such a large reduction in base flow can threaten the survival of fish and other aquatic inhabitants in the creek, particular during hot summer weather when dissolved oxygen levels can be at their lowest of the year. Water is like a lot of other necessities, no one really gives it a second thought until they don’t have it; and as long as I have mine, that’s all that really matters.