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Geiger’s Counter:Tropical rains the only answer for long drought

The overnight weekend rain pounding the roof was loud enough to awaken. It was a welcome jolt to the sleep pattern. It is easy to recall summers long ago when one would fall asleep to the sound of rain hitting the roof and, upon awakening the next day, it would still be raining. Those days are long gone or so it seems. The last continuous rains that pop into the memory occurred in 1994 when Tropical Storm Alberto wrought the great flood. Everywhere one looks, water levels are down – way down. Ponds have dried up. In some instances, land owners have given up and breached dams that once impounded water. Streams and rivers seem to fill only with runoff from storms rather than from the multiple water sources of the past. Fisherman and kayakers have to plan excursions based on water monitoring points. Years ago, these were only consulted to make sure river levels were not so high as to be dangerous. Now, they are checked to make sure the time spent portaging will not exceed the time afloat. Springs that once gushed water to the surface from underground aquifers now only produce a trickle of moisture. The water levels in those aquifers have dropped significantly and the pressure needed to force the water to the surface is no longer there. And, we see the results. Age old trees die – their roots no longer able to tap into life-giving water. Invasive species which require less water take their places and, slowly, the landscape morphs. Grade school science teaches that only heavy rainfall in groundwater recharge areas can lift water table levels. That requires long, soaking rains. South Georgia and northern Florida received such rains last week but they fell in areas where billions of gallons of water are pumped daily from the ground for agricultural uses specifically because rainfall is no longer sufficient to support profitable crop yields. So, the benefits are fleeting. Is there any hope? Only another series of slow-moving tropical storms can help at this point. Perhaps we can experience one or more – without the flooding, of course. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette.

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