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March 29, 2013

Water table rebounding after drought

Farmers optimistic heading into planting season

— Coming off a widespread drought that dried up much of Indiana’s corn and soybean crop in 2012, water levels in the Howard County region slowly are returning to near-normal levels.

Mark Basch, of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Water, said precipitation for the region that includes Howard, Miami, Tipton and Cass counties is a little bit above average.

For the period from Oct. 1 to Feb. 28, Basch said normal precipitation in the region is 13.81 inches. The actual amount measured from Oct. 1, 2012, to Feb. 28, 2013, is 15.89 inches.

“Most of the state is a little above average,” Basch said. “The northeast region is lagging a little behind.”

Basch said ground water levels are determined by 40 observation wells around the state, monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“These are real-time observations of the current water levels,” he said. “There is an observation well on the Howard-Cass county line, which is down a little.”

Basch said the water level is at its highest in the spring. That well is showing a level approximately 18 inches below normal.

“It should recover as in previous years,” he said. “It should recover and get back to normal levels. Right now, it’s not a significant issue.”

Calvin Hartman, of the Howard County Soil and Water Conservation District, who also farms, said field tiles are running and drainage ditches are flowing.

“Normally this time of year, the ditches are flowing,” he said. “This is a good indication of subsurface moisture.”

Hartman said he believes the Howard County region is out of the drought and should remain that way, as long as precipitation is normal this spring.

“In 1988 there was a wet spring, but in June and July the faucet was turned off,” he said. “That had an impact on crop yields.”

Kent Chism, who farms near the Howard-Cass county line, said water flowing in ditches is a good indicator of where the water table is currently.

“We’ve still got a little way to go,” he said. “We don’t have a lot to spare.”

Chism said he hopes to begin planting in mid-April, which will depend on how quickly the fields dry out.

“There’s an old saying that if it rains on Easter, we’ll get rain on seven consecutive Sundays,” he laughed. “Maybe we’ll be getting some rain on Sunday.”

Tipton County farmer and weather observer Warren Baird said precipitation has been about normal for this time of year.

“As long as we get normal rainfall, it should be all right,” he said. “We have recovered from the drought, unless there is another extended dry period.”

Baird said the 8-to-11 inch snowfall on Monday looked bad, but there was only about 0.6 inch of water.

“The ground had thawed so the water is soaking in,” he said. “There wasn’t much runoff.”

Baird said depending on how rapidly the soil dries, farmers in the area should still have a normal planting season starting in April.

“Last year the drought impacted the corn,” he said. “My yield was down 25 to 30 percent. The late rains in 2012 helped the soybeans. I had the best yield ever.”

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