Drought hits Woodstock hard
The hot, dry weather that has plagued the northern Illinois area for the past month is wreaking havoc on local farmers and their crops, and also doing damage in other ways.
“This is impacting us big time due to the fact that the corn crop is not being [naturally] irrigated,” said Mel Von Bergen, farmer and owner of Von Bergen’s Country Market. “The [corn] is stressed.”
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, produced as a partnership between many government and nongovernment entities, the entire state of Illinois is experiencing a drought. About half of McHenry County, including Woodstock, is experiencing a severe drought. As of July 13, only 1.18 inches of rain had fallen in Chicago since June 1, well below the 4.64-inch average.
Von Bergen said the health of the corn crop depends upon the point they are in their reproductive cycle. He said corn planted early and without an irrigation system is likely ruined. Corn planted later in the season probably needs significant rain in the next week or so to survive, he said.
Beyond the simple need for water, Von Bergen said the extreme heat also has been cause for alarm.
As of July 12, Chicago had experienced 26 days of 90-degrees or hotter weather. As of July 12 last year, only nine 90-degree or hotter days had been recorded. The average temperature this summer, 76.5 degrees, is the warmest in the 142 years of record keeping and 6.9 degrees higher than the 142-year average.
“At nighttime it’s been above 80 degrees,” Von Bergen said, stressing crops at all times of the day and night. “We need it in the 50- to 60-degree range to allow [the corn] to recoup a little.”
At Von Bergen’s, vegetable crops are irrigated, but even that is not enough in most cases. Von Bergen explained that one inch of rain on an acre of land is equivalent to 28,000 gallons of water.
“Our ground has a lot of ways it can suck up the water,” Von Bergen said. Even if the farm irrigates the crops a half an inch every three or four days, which has been the case, the hot weather and dry ground has sucked up the water in one day.
Keith Johnson, Woodstock Farmers Market manager, said “everybody is watering like crazy.” Despite the increased watering, the yields are expected to be smaller across the board.
“Everybody is trying to keep the produce coming, we’ll just have a little less [than normal],” he said.
In some cases, the numbers may be substantially less. Johnson said fruit trees bloomed early this year, but a frost killed much of the fruit. Apple growers, he said, are predicting 70 to 80 percent less production than normal years.
Johnson said the root vegetables are probably doing better than most, but even they are starting to suffer due to the lack of water.
The growing season has been an interesting time for the Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Campus student farm, located in Bull Valley.
“Our student-run business has really shown us how dependent we are on the delicate balance between sunshine and rainfall,” said Alex Tuchman, farm operations assistant. “With hardly a winter or spring to speak of and a great drought with a lot of heat this summer, we have had to throw our winter plans out the window and completely modify the way we are treating our soil, conserving our water and using our energy.”
The lettuce and other leafy greens want to go straight to seed, Tuchman said, and their bitter leaves are not desirable. The cucumbers and squashes need water to help grow their large fruits, and wheat production has been low because Loyola does not have the infrastructure to irrigate it, Tuchman said.
“The students who have chosen to come to the Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Campus and spend their summer farming have really been challenged to think about how we are to maintain a steady and healthy food supply in the future,” he said.
WFRD advises care
Terry Menzel, deputy chief for the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District, said the district has been lucky to avoid major field and brush fires.
“We haven’t had anything compared to other towns,” Menzel said. “Why are we different than anybody? We’re not really. We’ve just been lucky.”
Although Woodstock has not encountered any serious fires since the drought began, Menzel said the possibilities remain.
“[People] have to be cautious whenever any smoking material gets disposed,” he said, noting with the fireworks and grilling season in full force, residents should take utmost care.
The extreme heat also can lead to dehydration. He said neighbors should be checking on each other and staying indoors during periods of extreme heat.
Ideally, Menzel said, keeping lawns hydrated would be a potential answer, but water restrictions have been put in place to protect the city’s water supply.
“Currently Woodstock is able to meet this demand and our water supply and distribution systems are performing well,” a city release stated. “The six water supply wells and the treatment capacity have been able to keep with this increased demand to date. However, the increased demand over an extended period of time along with the weather forecast of extended heat and drought are a concern, and it is important that we move to address this condition before the water supply becomes critical.”
Woodstock has imposed mandatory water restrictions as a result. Even-numbered addresses may use outside water on even calendar days between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. Odd-numbered addresses may use outside water on odd calendar days between the same hours.
The Village of Wonder Lake has imposed similar restrictions. Even-numbered residences can water on even-numbered days, and odd-numbered residences can water on odd-numbered days from midnight to 9 a.m.
Trees, shrubs need water
Brenda Dahlfors, Master Gardener program coordinator with the University of Illinois Extension, said it is important for people to make best use of water during these restrictions.
“Their trees and shrubs are going to be a lot more money to replace [than perennial flowers],” she said. Dahlfors said she has been receiving calls in recent days from people noticing their trees and shrubs starting to “shut down” and lose leaves.
“The roots don’t go that deep,” she said. “Trees are not like carrots, but people always think that. Those trees are feeling [the drought] just like everything else.”
The University of Illinois Extension said applying a quarter to a half an inch of water every two to four weeks should be enough to maintain moisture in the crown and roots so lawns can survive and resume growing when conditions improve.
Water works attendance high
One of the positives from the heatwave and drought has been the attendance at the Woodstock Water Works facility. As of July 4, the facility has had 28,000 total attendance. Recreation Director Dave Zinnen said the aquatic center’s annual attendance averages between 40,000 and 45,000. It is well on its way to surpassing the average.
Already this season, Woodstock Water Works has surpassed 1,000 guests on nine separate days. Last year, a year which also exceeded average attendance, the center did not have nine separate days of 1,000 guests until mid-August.
If the attendance numbers continue above average, Zinnen said the city will likely be able to pay for some updates at the aquatic center, such as additional large sun umbrellas.
Still, Zinnen said the weather has taken its toll on other areas of the recreation department.
“We’d take closing the pool a couple of days if it meant getting rain,” he said.
While most of the city’s soccer fields are irrigated, he said the baseball and softball diamonds are hurting.
Zinnen also noted that the city was close to cancelling games during the string of 100-plus degree days in early July, not because of the field conditions, but because of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, he said.