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Another year, another devastating drought

Another year, another devastating drought

Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 7:23 pm

A year or so ago, this column was bemoaning the historic drought of 2007 and prognosticating that 2008 would see a turnaround, with a cool and wet summer and fine growing conditions. So much for amateur meteorological prophesying. We just knew it couldn’t happen again, but it did. The quickly dying 2008 brought another 100-year drought that is not dead yet, the second in as many years. It is enough to make even avid gardeners turn back to duck hunting or dominoes. When that rosy prediction for 2008 was made, we had experienced the wettest October in history just three months previously, breaking the back of the 2007 drought. Farm ponds were refilled and creeks and rivers were out of their banks. Things were looking up as 2008 came in on a wet note. And it kept looking good. The first half of 2008 stayed wet and the spring escaped any devastating freezes such as had occurred in 2007. Spring and early summer beds and borders were among the best ever. Forget all those trees and shrubs that had met their demise in 2007. Then it hit again. The tap turned off in June and didn’t turn on again until this very month, and even then not in any extravagant way, such as occurred in that wet October 2007. The five inches or so of precipitation we’ve seen in December is no drought breaker. Farm ponds and water reservoirs all over the South are yet half empty (not half full) and it will take enormous rains during a period of months to get back to any semblance of normal. As has been pointed out before, we are fortunate here to have a plentiful supply of water. Deep aquifers supply our city conduits and you can irrigate to your heart’s content without feeling guilty. If you’re on a well, then you might have to worry about it going dry. By late July 2008 the drought had dug in and water hauling outside our irrigated area was the order of the day. It gets old, that hauling 50 gallons at a time here and yonder and trying futilely to succor young of the year woodies just to keep them on life support in the hope that rain will finally reappear. This went on for months, well into the fall, with meager rains evaporating almost as soon as they hit the ground. The only thing that kept 2008 from being as miserable as 2007 was the fact the heat wasn’t quite as bad. It was only horrible, not unbearable. Irrigated areas held up through it all … at a cost. We expended more than 100,000 gallons of water in August, down from the 144,000 the previous August, but still notable. The result of all that applied water was (ahem) some of the finest late summer and fall bloom ever. Part of that, however, is the result of 34 years of fine tuning borders and weeding out unproductive species and varieties of perennials and shrubs. Fall brought a spate of planting trees and shrubs, as it always does. I don’t know why I don’t quit, but somehow, when the droughts ease it just seems imperative that the deads be pulled and replaced. It goes on as we speak, and this year 190 woodies have been planted at Tennessee Dixter, on top of, or at least in some of the same holes, as an almost identical number in 2007. Nearly 400 in two years! Little ground has been gained, and much has been lost. Replacing a 20-year plant with a yearling surely constitutes losing ground. Someday we will return to wet conditions, when growth rings on trees will be wider and extension of branches will double and triple what has been the case the last two years. Maybe this year… . ——— Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column. Published in The Messenger 12.30.08

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