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Drought makes mark on Martin County

October 5, 2012
Jenn Brookens , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - With a non-essential watering ban in place for Fairmont, once lush green lawns are drying out, and local lakes, trees and wildlife are feeling the effects of the drought as well.

"This is probably the most serious drought we've seen since 1988, even 1976," said Leo Getsfried, area hydrologist for the Department of Natural Resources. "The lakes are responding to it now; we've already seen the impact some time ago. We're in a protected flow situation in the Blue Earth Area watershed, which covers Center Creek, Elm Creek and Cedar Creek."

Most of the creeks in Martin County are completely dry or have very little water left.

Article Photos

A sandbar peeks out on the southern side of Amber Lake in Fairmont.

Currently, the Climate Prediction Center has southwestern and south-central Minnesota in an extreme drought that is predicted to continue until the end of the year.

"After fall, it is anyone's guess," Getsfried said. "At this point it is believed that it will continue into next year, and we could see a lot worse conditions next spring because we're already so dry."

Trees and wildlife are also suffering from the arid conditions.

"There were a lot of evergreens that were brown or drying this spring," said Rich Perrine of the Martin Soil & Water Conservation District in Fairmont. "The groundwater had dropped away in most locations, so we're vulnerable to losing what's still alive. ... Even if we get moisture now, it's questionable if some of these trees will green up again next spring."

Along with evergreens, broad-leaf trees like maples and ash trees will take a hard hit.

"With the warm ups last winter and having a shorter, warmer winter, the insects survive better and reproduce more and cause more problems," Perrine said.

Even bringing water to the trees at this point would provide little aid.

"The groundwater tables are so low that the ground would suck up any water like a sponge," Perrine said.

Animals such as amphibians, turtles, and birds are also hurting from the drought, and may face a kill-off this winter.

"They are already moving and going further to find water," Perrine said. "Right now we're seeing species like muskrats on the move to where there is adequate water to survive. ... A lot of the surface sources for them are gone."

Ice fishermen this winter might also see the effect, and not just whether they can get out on the ice.

"With the pools drying up, we'll lose fish in the more shallow lakes," Perrine said. "We could see what water is left in the lakes freezing up completely. ... The Fairmont lakes and Fox Lake might be fine, but the more shallow lakes will see trouble. ... When there's no moving water, we'll lose some fish quicker."

Getsfried has also received reports from people of well-water interference.

"This will be likely to expand because we have a more precarious water supply," he said. "Some well owners may need to drill a new well."

How much worse the drought will get before it gets better is anyone's guess.

"We'll need some serious precipitation to brings things back to the regular condition," Getsfried said.

"We're seeing some little bits (of precipitation) on the horizon," Perrine said. "It could go fast or it could drag on. We've had cases where people have said it'll take 10 years to replenish, and then we had a couple good storms and we were back to normal."

The best-case scenario would be to get rain before winter, but winter precipitation could also help.

"If we had snow cover early, the water could filtrate into the ground," Perrine explained. "The topsoil doesn't freeze much without moisture in the ground. With a little snow melt, we need it to soak in rather than run off. Rain now would be even better, but it's a matter of getting the right type of rain. A few drops won't be able to replenish our ground water."

In the meantime, Getsfried advises residents to practice water conservation sooner rather than later. In addition to the outdoor watering ban, water conservation practices inside the house could also help.

"Take a long hard look at your water use," he said. "Try to eliminate non-essential water use by having shorter showers, or washing your dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher, even just turning off the faucet as you brush your teeth. There are a lot of small ways that you can help conserve."



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