Black Hills farmers, ranchers overcoming drought condition effects on water supply
Drought conditions this year have some areas in the Black Hills experiencing drastically below normal precipitation levels and others experiencing extreme drought.
RAPID CITY, S.D. — Drought conditions this year have some areas in the Black Hills experiencing drastically below normal precipitation levels and others experiencing extreme drought.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the ground as dry as it is,” said Cliff Jensen, a fourth-generation rancher in the Black Hills. “We’ll get a little shower and it doesn’t impact anything,”.
Some fields like Cliff Jensen’s produced a quarter of the hay yield from previous years, putting ranchers in a difficult spot.
“On a total basis, it’s not enough, and so you either have carry-over hay or you’re forced to purchase hay or getting rid of some cows,” Jensen said. “That’s the choices and there’s people on every side of that issue.”
On Jensen’s ranch near Whitewood, the second water source is dissipating.
“We typically depend on surface water, water runoff to stock dams,” Jensen said.
A saving grace this year was Cliff’s and another ranchers partnership with many agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, that allowed them to use Forest Service resources for grazing and water needs.
But if one of the shallow wells on the property were to go dry, a major problem could present itself. If ranchers secondary water source is non-existent, they could dig deeper in their wells that may or may not produce water.
“What we can’t tell you is how much water you’re going to get,” said Randy Taylor, a part-owner of Taylor Drilling in Rapid City. “We can give you a range or a, you know, based on past experience. We can tell you approximately what to expect, there’s enough variability in that that there’s there’s no guarantees when you go out there.”
And digging a major well some two to three thousand feet down may not be an option.
“You’re probably in the neighborhood of $150,000 maybe $200,000 to drill a well like that, and that’s out of the question for an awful lot of people,” Taylor said. “You have to be able to justify that expense with production from your ranch.”
Area farmers and ranchers faced with finding solutions like developing their current wells with solar technology and hauling water to hang on during these drought conditions.