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Drier Than the Dust Bowl: Waiting for Relief in Rural America

For related articles and information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page.

LAS ANIMAS, Colo. - The water could start at any time.

Every few hours, Anita Pointon refreshes the Web site that tells when it's coming, because the work begins as soon as they know. Her husband, Chuck, 62, will set out to walk the farm with a moisture probe to see which fields are the driest. One run of water covers only about 18 acres of their 500, so they have to choose carefully.

As rural America wilts, this is how those left working its powder-dry land get by: At the appointed hour, Chuck turns the head gate at the Fort Lyon Canal, sending water sluicing through ditches bordering the fields. He tracks up and down the rows, adjusting pipes and valves to make sure the water is flowing just right. Almost as soon as he's got it working, it's another field's turn, and he lifts the dams to send water in a different direction. That goes on through the night: If a piece of trash were to block a gate, they could lose thousands of gallons of water, which might leave whole rows of corn lacking the moisture they need to grow.

They call it "babysitting the water," for its finicky nature and the sleep they lose over it. And in an age of automation, the Pointons have no machines to help. Without a sprinkler system - which the Pointons couldn't afford to install, even if they could spare the extra land it takes up - they rely on gravity to spread it across the fields.

There's been so little moisture lately, though, that gravity isn't doing its job. The water doesn't make it from the furrow to the seed bed. As Anita puts it: "If this doesn't get wet, we've wasted our time."  


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