Confluence Chronicles – Where City & Country Meet 6-29-09 |

Confluence Chronicles – Where City & Country Meet 6-29-09

I almost feel sorry for people who live where it rains a lot. Do they think of the rains as a blessing as those of us who live in arid climes do? Here in southwestern South Dakota if it rains on the day of a picnic, we sit in the rain and don’t complain.

When I was in college in Iowa I bought an umbrella since it rained frequently. Later I brought it home and tried to explain to my younger sister and brother what rain is. It wasn’t quite that bad, but for eight years, during the last drought that just broke last summer, it was nearly that extreme. You know how rain emits an aroma, one of life and cleansing, even if it falls miles away. That is a heartbreaker during a drought when you can smell it, but it doesn’t fall on your fields and pastures. This spring it has been raining, in good doses, off and on. We are so thankful, and we don’t take it for granted.

We live on an irrigation project, using water from a dam built by the Bureau of Reclamation in the late 1940s and early 1950s. When the project was first created, all of the farm ditches were pulled in the dirt with a ditcher and a farm tractor. Within a few years, some farmers had cement ditches permanently installed in specific locations, which did away with dirt ditch washouts and seepage from the ditch. It was a measure of using less water.

During irrigation a small section of a field is watered at a time; each section is called a set, and when we change it we say we “set the water.” For many years it was traditional to move each set twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. When the water ran through the field and got to the end, the excess ran down the drain. Fields with shorter rows in which the water reached the end sooner needed to be changed at least three times per day, adding to the labor intensive process.

Another common practice was investing in gated pipe. These 20- to 30-foot joints, with gates that could be opened to let water out on a section of a field, or closed when the water needed to be directed elsewhere, reduced evaporation. The pipes commonly used in this area for field water delivery are 8 or 10 inches in diameter. This pipe had to be put onto a trailer, hauled to the field, and laid in place and fitted together on top of the ground every spring. In the fall, the reverse was true, and it was picked up and stored. It took several days and three workers to distribute, and then pick up, all of this pipe. Now, thankfully, center pivot irrigation systems are the norm.

No matter how we apply the irrigation water, nothing beats a good old rain for even distribution over a field and the life-giving properties rain water affords.


Peggy writes from her ranch home where she can be reached by e-mailing

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