Hauling water like pioneers in Rooks County

Jul 28, 2014

Farmer-ranchert Jerry McReynolds fills a stock tank with water for his cattle June 30 in eastern Rooks County. A lack of groundwater in his area forces him and some neighbors to haul water from Woodston, a 24-mile round trip, two or more times a week.
Credit Tim Unruh / Salina Journal

Even though it’s 2014, for Jerry and Diane McReynolds they live like it’s the 1800s.  The McReynolds’ domestic well in Rooks County, Kansas, went dry in October 2013.   The couple are members of Rural Water District No. 3, but service is not reliable, especially during the day reported Tim Unruh for the Salina Journal.

“It’s like being in the pioneer days. It’s pretty sad,” Diane McReynolds says.

“On good days, we had streams (from faucets) the size of a pencil,” she says.

She washes clothes at night when demand is less on the water district, she struggled when family came home for Christmas, and on a good day, they had “streams (from the faucets) the size of a pencil.”  However, her frustration is the worst when she has shampoo in her hair and the water stops, forcing her to rinse her hair with bottled water.

“You don’t take a shower during the day. It’s 4 in the morning or late at night,” he said. “We joke that if we’re invited to someone’s house, we can bring cookies, but no water. There’s not enough of that to go around.”

The dryland farm and cow-calf operation raises wheat, milo and forage sorghum, and corn and soybeans “as moisture permits.”

“We’ve had some rain, no big ones, but they’ve been very helpful,” says Jerry McReynolds.  Lack of rain has only increased demands on the rural water system.

So what’s a farmer and rancher to do with thirsty critters and humans?

At least twice a week, McReynolds hops in a truck and drives 12 miles to Woodston, where he fills two 1,500-gallon water tanks.  Water runs him almost $400 a month during high demand months, and rural water district bills range from $300 to $500 for domestic and livestock water combined.

McReynolds says at that rate it doesn’t take long to justify thousands of dollars on a well.  In the past 20 years, he’s drilled 18 test holes with no results.

“I’m willing to try anything. You do all these things you have to do, because water is a priority,” McReynolds said. “It’s essential to life, essential to economics.”

He tries to curb water use on the farm the way some people pinch pennies.

“We don’t always value or protect it the way we should,” McReynolds said. “When I go to town and I see folks watering their lawns and it’s running out in the streets, I kinda cringe.”

Jerry McReynolds is careful not to blame irrigation or Rural Water District No. 3 for his water woes.

“Here, the problem has everything to do with drought,” he said. “This helps you realize how important water is to us, and to Kansas.”

More about water, or lack of it, in Rooks County is available from the Salina Journal.