When the skies finally opened up in early September a sigh of relief could almost be heard from parts of Eastern Ontario.
For people like Earl Fisher, a Holstein fbreeder near Seeley's Bay, the lack of rain led to problems he's never seen before with his own operation. Fisher's 28-foot well ran dry and for "the better part of a week," he had to have water trucked in. A new 384-foot well has now been dug on the property. Just down the road another dairy farmer had similar well problems and was forced to reorganize the way water is routed to house and barn.
Jim Myslik, a water management engineer with OMAFRA, says there have been calls from worried well owners, but "no more than usual." However, Myslik does, from time to time, send out a fact sheet he authored which tackles the more commonly asked questions when long periods of dry weather hit.
Enquiries include: "how can I check if my well is being affected by the dry weather," and "if I need a new well to provide more water, what type of well should I construct?"
While rainfall has varied from one area to another, those who work in the agriculture industry agree that expected spring rains and winter run-off have overall been unusually low in the past two years.
"This is the dryest Iíve ever seen it," says Charlie Foreman, a dairy farmer in rural Kingston who does a lot of custom crop work. "We're now going into our third dry year; can the crops keep drawing moisture?"
Foreman's own answer to his question is, probably not. "It would take a huge amount of moisture to put things back to the way they should be", he says, guessing that "ten inches" of rain in September alone would be a good start. "Everybody I've talked to says they've never seen it like this before ... Driving around with the combine I've noticed every ditch is dry. I've never seen them like that."
But at the same time Foreman notes the unusually dry conditions, he also says crops are doing surprisingly well.
"For what we've had for moisture, the crops are excellent ... there's just enough rain on the surface to keep everything going." Barley and corn crops, says Foreman, are "average or above average' with soybeans yet to come off as of this writing.
Brent Kennedy, OMAFRA's field crop program manager, agrees with Foreman's observations.
"In the newspapers you see the headlines talking about drought ... from a cropping perspective we can still have a good season," says Kennedy.
He compares the crop situation to private homeowners trying to keep their dried-out lawn in shape. "You can water your lawn and keep it going and yet you go down into the ground and it'll be bone dry.'
The September rains have been a big boost for farmers, says Kennedy, adding that since "upwards of five inches" fell in some areas, there will be moisture actually remaining in the ground. He says because of the drier weather crops are "generally earlier" this year, in some cases by up to two weeks.
Because of dry conditions over the past two years, several provincial ministries have joined up to form a task force which looks specifically at problems connected with water shortages. John Steele speaks for the environment ministry, which along with OMAFRA and the Ministry of Natural Resources, are studying the issue.
"The entire province is concerned about it," says Steele. "The water task force has been set up to deal with the future - if we don't get the water needed in the winter and next spring."
Steele says a "substantial amount" of snowfall and "normal run-off" are required this winter, along with "lots of spring rain" if the groundwater source is to be replenished.
Based in Toronto, Steele says he recently travelled through Eastern Ontario and noticed how dry rural streams were before the region received several days of rain. "The Wilton Creek was pretty low and it usually would run this time of year."
Steele says, however, that conditions in central and southwestern Ontario have actually been "a little worse" than in this part of the province. He says residents in Kitchener-Waterloo had lawn watering restrictions in place during the summer