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Waterworld South Dakota Style
How things can change
Farmers often couch when they say, “I wish it would stop raining” because Mother Nature is pretty adept at turning off the faucet during the growing season. I often think of a Missouri farmer who told me a few years ago that “Here, we are either three weeks away from a drought or a flood.”
Waterworld South Dakota Style - A good drought?
There is a place, though, where farmers might welcome a drought with open arms. Or at least get back to where things were like this shot from my family’s farm in July 2008.
Waterworld South Dakota Style - Honker Heaven...
This is Claremont, South Dakota, population 130 in the 2000 Census. This marker is what’s left of the school that dated way back to 1912. For a small town, Claremont has quite an illustrious history, including back-to-back state amateur baseball championships for the Honkers in 1984 and 1985.
Waterworld South Dakota Style - Or Honker Hades?
These days, though, roads like this leading into Claremont and areas extending westward to nearby Langford have a more depressing legacy. Water. Water. And more water. Prolific precipitation started in the early 1990s. Over time, it’s abated, but came back with a vengeance in 2009 and 2010, fueled by around 16 inches of rainfall in October 2009.
Waterworld South Dakota Style - Water, water everywhere...
Whether it’s a normal cycle or the fallout of global climate change, area farmers and residents know the water is raising havoc with crop production, road budgets, and other infrastructure. The flood shots are ones I took in late October during a visit to the Claremont/Langford area.
Waterworld South Dakota Style - No center pivots here
When I grew up, one of the most contentious issues was the Oahe Irrigation project. Our farm would have been on the end of a project to bring Missouri River water to drought-stressed fields. This area used to dry up more years than not.
Waterworld South Dakota Style - Deep in swamp water
The project died. It’s a good thing, too—otherwise, you’d see center pivots wheel deep in water, surrounded by former farmland in the Claremont/Langford area. Local estimates peg that amount of land planted by Claremont around 35% in 2010.
Waterworld South Dakota Style - There are lots of these signs
This is Marshall County Road 13 that went past my parent’s farm, sporting a now-familiar sign. Water flows over the road as you drive northward down the hill.
Waterworld South Dakota Style - Greasy spoon roads
Living in an area like this makes being a good “bad road” driver a necessity. Gravel is a luxury on many county and township roads, as cash-strapped local governments have to pick and choose priorities. “Greasy-spoon roads” are probably the best way to describe them after a rain.
Waterworld South Dakota Style - The Slough
This isn’t the kind of beachfront property you want to own. It’s part of “The Slough”—a stretch of several sections of land strung together. My dad used to own this quarter now covered by white-capped water before selling it to a neighbor in 1980. Back then, dry weather made this low-lying land some of the top farmland in Marshall County. Now, estimates peg this white-capped water at 9 to 12 feet deep.
Waterworld South Dakota Style - Change, change, change
So what’s up in the future? Well, things can change. Fields like this one were mainly planted just a couple years ago before cattails and swamp grass took over in 2009 and 2010. Dry weather could quickly convert it back into cropland.
Waterworld South Dakota Style - This, too, shall pass...we hope
Heading back to Des Moines, I recalled a scene from the movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding” where a hotel bellman eyed a dejected Julia Roberts sitting in a hotel hallway.
"My grandmother always said, 'This, too, shall pass,” he said. If it’s part of a normal cycle, I just hope this quickly passes so we can plant crops like this one in 2008 again.
Farmers often couch when they say, “I wish it would stop raining” because Mother Nature is pretty adept at turning off the faucet during the growing season.