DNR distributes irrigation permits to farms

Farmers try to use waterways for crops
DNR distributes irrigation permits to farms

As drought conditions continue, some farmers are finding relief in local waterways.

The Department of Natural Resources is starting to approve permits following Gov. Scott Walker’s drought declaration.

Farmers lucky enough to live near a waterway that still has some water in it are trying to use it to fight the lack of rainfall.

In Randolph, Ed and Diane Westra are trying to keep their farmers’ market produce alive.

The couple dug a retention pond to help with irrigation after the drought of 1988, but they said even that’s proven not to be enough.

They now have a permit to pump from a nearby drainage ditch.

“We thought we had plenty of water to handle whatever came up,” said Diane Westra. “You just don’t expect it to go on for this length of time and run this dry again, beyond what you could imagine dryness being.”

The farm is only allowed to pump for two hours a day from the ditch, and only until the water goes down to a certain level. The Westras have only been watering in the early mornings or at night.

So far, 10 to 15 farms have requested similar permits from the DNR, which is in the process of approving them based on the water available.

“We’ve been really dry for a really long time, so if you’re needing to irrigate a smaller area, there’s a chance that maybe it can help,” said Martye Griffin, waterway policy expert with the DNR. “But, if it’s a very large area, maybe the resource can only support so much water being taken out. That may not be sufficient to help at all.”

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For a new cabbage patch the Westras have planted, the water may just be the ticket to keeping something alive. The irrigation is a lot of work that will still likely lead to a crop loss on the year, they said.

“Probably not real great, but this is at least better than nothing,” said Diane Westra. “Just be thankful for what we get and keep praying for rain.”

While the Westras are watering their produce, they said they’re letting about 30 acres of corn die because there’s simply not enough water for it all.

DNR officials said they plan to continue site visits to those who have requested irrigation permits next week. 

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