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“Coping with Drought”

September 1, 2007

            Miss Maude and Creech lived in an unpainted clapboard house in Barnwell County, South Carolina. The house was perched atop Heart Pine logs. The house had no running water. The bathroom was an outhouse at the end of a path that passed a beautiful flower garden. Miss Maude and her husband, known only by his last name, as Creech, enjoyed a simple life. Their home was lighted with kerosene lamps. They cooked on a wood stove, which also served as their source of heat. In the summertime, they would sit together in matching rocking chairs on a shaded porch that wrapped around the house.

            Miss Maude wore a sunbonnet and a faded calico dress. She cooled herself with a fan woven from a Palmetto Palm. Creech wore a straw hat, a long-sleeved cotton shirt, and overalls. They drew water from a well.

They each took a bath once a week, usually on Saturday, whether they needed it or not. They took turns bathing in a galvanized tin tub in the kitchen. Miss Maude washed dishes in a blue enamel pan. The water left over from washing was taken to the garden. It was poured from a white porcelain pitcher around individual plants providing the moisture needed in the low country heat.

Their lifestyle was simple. Their flower garden was beautiful. Their vegetable garden was fruitful. Their conservation of water is to be admired and emulated.

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal reported last week that the month of August set records for high temperatures and low rainfall. The state and local representatives from the Drought Response Committee reporteded September 5, 2007 that conditions have continued to deteriorate. The committee upgraded the drought level to severe for all counties in South Carolina except Beaufort and Jasper.

According to Hope Mizzell, State Climatologist, the drought impact to agriculture, forestry, and water levels indicates an extreme drought for much of the Upstate.

In July and August, the SC Forestry Commission responded to 518 wildfires that burned more than 2,730 acres. The high temperatures have hard for firefighters. Without widespread rainfall, the fall wildfire season has the potential to be severe.

State Hydrologist Bud Badr reported all lake levels are below normal except Lake Murray. Fifteen water systems that have imposed water restrictions.

Last Thursday, the Herald-Journal carried an article by Janet S. Spencer about the problem in one rural Upstate community. Wells are drying up in Rock Springs in Cherokee County. Confronted with a lack of potable drinking water, about 110 residents of the community off Highway 18 north of Blacksburg are rationing to conserve the scant supply of water. Residents have been advised not to drink the water.

Coping with the declining water table is difficult. One resident said, “Many have to space out use of their water for washing clothes during the day, bathing at night. One family built a homemade holding tank with a timer on the well pump. It runs at intervals and fills up at night. That usually gets them through the next day.”

Digging new wells is not always a solution. Some attempts to find a better source of water end in disappointment with only a deep, dry hole. “Rock Springs has gone from desperate for water, to critical, to begging,” said one man who has always lived in the area.

Though the situation is not nearly so critical for most of us, the drought that has persisted in the southeastern United States through the summer has been difficult for many of us who love to garden. We have tried to stay ahead of the drought by watering regularly and by mulching deeply.

This summer the drought has been so severe that many gardeners have lost prized trees and shrubs. Vegetable gardens and flower gardens have suffered. I have paid special attention to the plants in my garden that have survived. Some have done well and have flourished even through this hot, dry summer.

While I have lost a number of plants, I have learned what to plant next year and what not to plant. Next year there will be more succulents like the always-reliable Sedums; more heat tolerant annuals such as Vinca, Cosmos, Cleome, and Portulaca; and more drought tolerant perennials – Verbena, Black-eyed Susan, Yarrow, and Coneflowers. Even the miniature Roses have survived the drought well.

Clare and I have also learned some important lessons about conserving water. It is not wise to leave a sprinkler running for several hours. It is impractical because of the loss of water due to evaporation.

Plastic pans in our kitchen sink conserve dishwater. Hanging baskets, flowerpots, flower boxes all get a daily drink of this recycled water. Shorter showers are in order. A three-gallon bucket placed in the shower conserves the water we wait until it comes to the right temperature. Trees and shrubs that must be watered deeply love this recycled water.

We’ve learned from necessity the lessons that Miss Maude and Creech demonstrated so beautifully on their farm long ago.

While public officials guide us in measures that are in the best interest of us all, we as individuals and families have a responsibility, too. Coping with the drought requires that we all conserve as much as possible. Pray for communities like the people of Rock Springs. Most of all, pray for rain.

-Kirk H. Neely

© H-J Weekly, September 2007

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