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Oklahoma Drought 2011

With temperatures at the century mark, and rains virtually non-existent, this has been a hard, hot summer for those who live off the land.
Oklahoma Drought 2011

Dry ground

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Oklahoma Water Resources Board

Show Dates

Show 1130: Oklahoma Drought 2011

Air date: July 24, 2011

 

Transcript

ROB MCCLENDON:  WELL IT’S BEEN A SWELTERING SUMMER AND THE END MAY BE NOWHERE IN SIGHT.  ACCORDING TO THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE, A DROUGHT THAT BEGAN LAST OCTOBER COULD STRETCH INTO EARLY NEXT YEAR.  ALREADY PARCHED CONDITIONS ARE TAKING A TOLL ON OKLAHOMA FARM COUNTRY, WHICH IS WHERE OUR ANDY BARTH HAS JUST RETURNED FROM.

ANDY BARTH:  THAT’S RIGHT ROB; WITH TEMPERATURES IN SOUTHWESTERN OKLAHOMA REACHING GHASTLY LEVELS, PEOPLE ARE FINDING IT DIFFICULT JUST TO GO ABOUT THEIR DAILY LIVES.  WE TRAVEL TO SOME OF THE HARDEST HIT AREAS WHERE WATER IS SCARCE, AND TEMPERATURES SHOW NO SIGN OF DROPPING.

[WALKING THROUGH DRY GRASS]

IT’S A DRY, CRISPY DAY IN SOUTHWESTERN OKLAHOMA; AND WATER IS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND.

ALICE LADYMON:  EVERYTHING’S JUST DRY.

ANDY:  ALICE LADYMON IS THE MAYOR OF CEMENT, OKLAHOMA, AND SAYS THE SCORCHING HEAT IS MORE THAN JUST A CATCH PHRASE.

LADYMON:  IT’S SPARKED A LOT OF UH, FOREST FIRES, GRASS FIRES, AND BASICALLY AROUND THE WHOLE TOWN.  AND THE FIREMEN HAVE BEEN GOOD ABOUT GETTING ‘EM OUT OR GETTING ‘EM UNDER CONTROL.

ANDY:  AND WHILE LADY LIBERTY STANDS TALL IN HER DRY HARBOR, CEMENT HAS PLANS TO EXPAND THEIR WATER SUPPLY.

LADYMON:  AND THAT WOULD HELP THE FIREMEN AND HELP THE TOWN ALSO.

ANDY:  BUT IN THE MEANTIME, WITH WATER SUPPLY LOW AND DEMAND SKY HIGH, CEMENT IS FORCED TO IMPLEMENT SEVERE WATER RESTRICTIONS.

CLARA WEEDN:  IT’S JUST HELPING SAVE OUR WATER.

ANDY:  CLARA WEEDN HAS LIVED IN CEMENT FOR 65 YEARS AND SAYS THIS DROUGHT IS ONE OF THE WORST SHE HAS SEEN.

CLARA:  JUST THIS LAST WEEK THEY DECIDED WHICH ONES COULD WATER.  I JUST KNOW THAT WE CAN WATER ON THE ODD DAYS AND THE OTHERS CAN WATER ON THE EVEN DAYS.

ANDY:  WATER THAT PROVES TO BE A DELICACY HERE IN SOUTHWESTERN OKLAHOMA.  AND ACCORDING TO DISTRICT CONSERVATIONIST DANIELLE WHALEY, THAT DELICACY IS BECOMING MORE AND MORE SCARCE.

DANIELLE WHALEY:  I HAD A REALLY SMART RANCHER TELL ME ONE TIME THAT HE DIDN’T GROW CATTLE AND HE DIDN’T GROW HORSES, HE GREW GRASS; AND, WE CAN’T GROW GRASS RIGHT NOW.

ANDY:  AND MUCH OF THE GRASS THAT WAS AVAILABLE IS NOW CHARRED BLACK; AND FOR WHALEY, EDUCATION IS KEY WHEN PREVENTING THESE FIREY OUTBREAKS.

DANIELLE:  AS A CONSERVATIONIST UH, I’M TRYING TO URGE BRUSH MANAGEMENT, BECAUSE WITH THE WILDFIRES A LOT OF THE, A LOT OF RESIDENTIAL LANDOWNERS DON’T KNOW, AREN’T AWARE, THAT THOSE CEDAR TREES THAT LOOK GREEN ALL SUMMER LONG AND ALL WINTER LONG ,ARE REAL PRETTY, ARE A HUGE FIRE DANGER TO THEIR HOUSE.

ANDY:  AND THESE PRETTY LOOKING CHRISTMAS TREES PACK A MEAN PUNCH DURING FIRE SEASON.

DANIELLE:  THEY’RE VERY VOLATILE AS A DRY FUEL UH, CAN SPARK VERY EASILY.  AN EMBER FROM A CEDAR TREE CAN TRAVEL FOR A LONG WAY BEFORE IT LANDS, AND STAY, AND STAY AN EMBER AND NOT GO OUT.  SO IT CAN SPREAD GREATLY WITH A LOT OF CEDAR TREES IN ONE AREA.

ANDY:  AND WHALEY SAYS IF THEY CAN HOLD ON, THERE IS A GLIMMER OF HOPE AHEAD FOR PRODUCERS.

DANIELLE:  WE’RE ALSO WORKING WITH FSA, WHICH IS THE FARM SERVICE AGENCY, UH, IS OFFERING A PROGRAM CALLED THE LIVESTOCK FORAGE PROGRAM.  UH, IT’S AVAILABLE TO BEGINNING FARMERS AND RANCHERS AND TO UH, SOCIALLY-DISADVANTAGED PRODUCERS TO COME IN AND GET ASSISTANCE FOR LAND THAT THEY OWN AND FOR THE NUMBER OF LIVESTOCK THEY HAVE; BASICALLY, THEY’RE JUST GONNA BE CUT A CHECK TO HELP THEM OFFSET THE COST OF HAY.  IT DOESN’T 100% PAY FOR THE COW OR THE CALF, BUT IT’S GONNA OFFSET THE COST.

ANDY:  AND ONE PRODUCER WHO QUALIFIES FOR THE PROGRAM IS CATTLEMAN AND STATE TROOPER, BRENT LANKISTER.

BRENT LANKISTER:  USUALLY WE’LL HAVE A SPRING AND A SUMMER AND SOME RAINS, AND THEN THE GRASS WILL, IT WILL ALLOW THE GRASS TO GROW WHICH WILL PROVIDE PROPER NUTRITION FOR THE COWS.  WE HAVEN’T HAD ANY RAIN AND 105 DEGREE WEATHER, AND IT’S AFFECTED THE GRASS TO WHERE THE GRASS ISN’T GROWING AT ALL.

ANDY:  NOW LANKISTER IS FORTUNATE TO HAVE A FEW PONDS WITH WATER STILL IN THEM; BUT, HE FEARS THEY WON’T LAST LONG.

LANKISTER:  I DON’T THINK THEY’LL LAST MUCH LONGER.  THIS IS THE POND I’VE GOT.  THERE’S ANOTHER ONE DOWN BELOW US HERE THAT’S ABOUT TO DRY UP, AND TJERE’S TWO MORE PONDS ON THE HILL UP HERE ABOVE US THAT ARE DRY.  SO THIS IS REALLY THE BEST POND WE’VE GOT; BUT IT, I DON’T THINK IT’LL HOLD UP, NOT IN THESE CONDITIONS.

ANDY:  WITH THE LAND SUCKING UP THE LAST OF THE WATER, LANKISTER MAKES ONE OF THE HARDEST DECISIONS A CATTLEMAN CAN MAKE.

LANKISTER:  WE HAD ABOUT 50, 60 COWS AND WE, THE TOUGHEST DECISION WE HAD TO MAKE WAS TO SELL THE COWS.  THAT’S OUR INCOME, THAT’S OUR MONEY, THE WAY, PROVIDES A SOURCE OF INCOME FOR US.  SO, SELLING THE COWS WAS A PRETTY TOUGH DECISION BECAUSE WE, WE RELY ON THAT AND IT’S A FUN FAMILY OPERATION FOR US AND THE KIDS LIKE TO DO IT AND IT’S BEEN A TOUGH, TOUGH DECISION TO SELL, MAKE THE DECISION TO SELL SOME COWS.

[COWS MOOING]

ANDY:  IT’S SALE DAY AT THE APACHE STOCKYARDS.

WELL WITH OVER 6,000 CATTLE ALL READY TO BE SOLD AND MORE CATTLE CONSTANTLY COMING IN BY TRAILER, AUCTIONEERS WILL BE SELLING CATTLE WELL INTO THE EARLY MORNING HOURS.  IT’S CLEAR THAT THIS DROUGHT IS TAKING ITS TOLL NOT ONLY ON THE CATTLE, BUT THE PRODUCERS AS WELL.

WITH TRAILERS BACKED UP TO THE ROAD, PRODUCERS AND THEIR CATTLE ARE LEFT AT A STANDSTILL IN THE 113 DEGREE HEAT.  THE DROUGHT HAS FORCED THEM TO WAIT IN A LINE THEY DON’T WANT TO BE IN.

CATTLE PRODUCER:  NOT MUCH YOU CAN DO.  YOU’RE RUNNING OUT OF WATER, HAY, NO PROSPECT FOR RAIN.

ANDY:  AND QUICKLY RUNNING OUT OF CHOICES.

CATTLE PRODUCER:  I’M GONNA SELL EVERYTHING I GOT.

ANDY:  AND AS THE TRAILERS KEEP ROLLING IN, THE CATTLE ARE PENNED IN BACK, WAITING FOR THEIR BRIEF MOMENT IN THE SALE RING.

[AUCTIONEER]

BUT NOT ALL CATTLE PRODUCERS ARE HAVING TO FACE THE FEAR OF DISPERSAL; CATTLE PRODUCER JUSTIN MYERS SAYS, SMART GRAZING AND DIVERSIFICATION IS KEY WHEN SURVIVING THE DROUGHT.

JUSTIN MYERS:  WE’VE IMPLEMENTED SO MANY PRACTICES THAT, THAT NRCS HAS, HAS SHOWN US; AND, FROM ROTATIONAL GRAZING THAT ALLOWS THE GRASS TO REST FOR A WHILE AND THEN COME BACK AND FLASH GRAZE AGAIN.  WE’VE DONE THE CONSERVATION STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM.  WE, WE TRY TO MAINTAIN OUR, OUR SOIL AS THE BEST OF OUR ABILITY.  WE SPRAY OUR WEEDS, PUT OUT ADEQUATE AMOUNTS OF FERTILIZER; AND, ALL OF THOSE PRACTICES THAT WE’VE DONE FOR YEARS ARE GONNA HELP US HANG ON THROUGH THIS.

ANDY:  AND ALONG WITH RAISING CATTLE, JUSTIN AND HIS FAMILY RUN THEIR OWN BUSINESS; ALL OF WHICH, MAKES IT POSSIBLE TO STAY AFLOAT.

JUSTIN:  WE SELL DEWEZE HAY EQUIPMENT THAT’S MANUFACTURED BY HARPER INDUSTRIES OUT OF HARPER, KANSAS.  WE SELL TRIP HOPPER CUBE FEEDERS THAT ARE BUILT IN GERMAN, TEXAS, A RANCH-HAND GRILL GUARD.  OUR SLOGAN IS, WE EQUIP TODAY’S CATTLEMEN.  AND, NOT ONLY DO WE, WE RANCH OURSELF, THAT’S WHY WE HAVE ALL THIS EQUIPMENT, AND IT’S TURNED INTO ANOTHER SIDELINE BUSINESS.

ANDY:  FROM INTENSE WATER RESTRICTIONS TO REGRETTABLE HIGH-VOLUME CATTLE SALES, THE DROUGHT IN SOUTHWESTERN OKLAHOMA IS TAKING ITS TOLL ON EVERYTHING IT TOUCHES.

NOW IN ADDITION TO LACK OF WATER, LIVESTOCK AND HORSE PRODUCERS WORRY ABOUT FEEDING THEIR ANIMALS.  ONE PRODUCER TOLD ME THAT THIS TIME LAST YEAR A ROUND BALE OF GRASS HAY WAS PRICED AT $40; NOW, IT’S AROUND $120.  ANOTHER MENTIONED THAT ALFALFA COULDN’T EVEN BE FOUND SO THERE WAS NO USE PRICING IT; BUT FOR THOSE LUCKY FEW WHO DO FIND SOME, IT’S WELL OVER $200.

ROB:  NOW BACK ON THE TOWN OF CEMENT, HOW LONG CAN THAT TOWN EXPECT TO BE ON THESE WATER RESTRICTIONS?

ANDY:  WELL ROB, UNFORTUNATELY THERE IS NO END IN SIGHT.  AND ADDITIONALLY, BECAUSE OF THESE FIRE OUTBREAKS, RESIDENTS ARE VOLUNTARILY GIVING UP THEIR WATER TO HAVE WATER AVAILABLE FOR THE FIREMEN TO FIGHT THESE FIRES.

ROB:  ALRIGHT, TOUGH, CERTAINLY A TOUGH SITUATION; KEEP US APRISED.

ANDY:  WILL DO.