Water, water everywhere
Sunrise was five hours away, but sleep was not an option for Phil Hassinger.
The Grande Ronde Valley farmer was too busy on the morning of June 6 monitoring the rising waters of Catherine Creek. The stream, fed by snowmelt and unusually heavy rain, was threatening to escape its banks and destroy a portion of Booth Lane, a lifeline for Hassinger’s farm.“I was checking it every couple of hours. I knew that if it didn’t stop rising, it would wash the road out,’’ Hassinger said.
He was looking for gopher holes, which if not plugged would cause Catherine Creek’s dirt levy to collapse. Hassinger put sandbags provided by the City of Union and Union County over as many gopher holes as he could between midnight and 8 a.m. when he had three truckloads of gravel brought in. Fortunately the gravel ended the threat to Booth Lane.
A crisis was averted, but Hassinger, who co-owns his 1,0000-acre farm with sons Jed and Seth, did not emerge from the heavy rains unscathed. Hassinger and his sons lost 150 acres of crop land planted with grass seed, alfalfa and peppermint. The crops were lost after being submerged for weeks.
The Hassingers spent the next three weeks pumping water off their farm, eight miles northwest of Cove. This cost $300 a day due to the expense of the diesel used to run their pumpers.
On the plus side the heavy rain saved the Hassingers some money because they have not had to begin irrigating some portions of their farm land yet. This is sparing them money for electricity and the cost of having crews move irrigation wheel lines.
Phil Hassinger said his farm was one of at least a dozen in the Grande Ronde Valley damaged by rain, which seemed to fall continuously for two weeks.
La Grande received 3.29 inches of precipitation from May 26 to June 10, said Tesmond Hurd, a co-owner of
La Grande Weather Service Corp., which issues forecasts via its website, www.lgdws.com. The May 26 to June 10 total was 4.39 times more than the .75 inches of rain La Grande gets on average during this time, according to records from the Union County Airport dating to 1950, said Hurd, who will be a sophomore at La Grande High School this fall.
Sherman Hawkins, who has a farm east of Hot Lake along Catherine Creek, is among the Grande Ronde Valley farmers hit even harder by the downpour than the Hassingers. Hawkins ended up with 250 acres submerged by the rain, land he is still pumping water off.
Hawkins, however, was luckier than the Hassingers for he had not yet planted anything on the land, sparing him the loss of a crop.
“I was very fortunate,’’ Hawkins said Monday night.
He intends to plant fall wheat on the once-submerged acreage later this summer.
Hawkins and the Hassingers had many acres submerged by the heavy rain, but not farmers in higher areas. Not farmers like Dale Eisiminger of the Imbler-Summerville area, who found himself with little damage.
“For the most part it was a blessing,’’ Eisiminger said. “It has saved me on irrigating.’’
Eisiminger normally irrigates his crops two to three times, but this year will end up irrigating only once because of the rain.
Eisiminger noted the heavy rain delayed the development of his grass seed crop by about a week. This has not posed a problem. In fact, it provided a star-spangled bonus.
“Normally we start to harvest grass seed on the Fourth of July. I get to take the Fourth off. What a blessing,’’ Eisiminger said Saturday night on the eve of Independence Day.
Eisiminger said he escaped problems caused by the heavy rain not only from being on higher ground but also by having a type of soil that drains well, preventing puddles from forming.
Bill Howell, also of the Imbler area, said the heavy rain has been a net plus.
“It had a very positive impact on my grain crops,’’ he said.
Howell pointed out that the rain was needed because of a dry early spring.
“It let us catch up when we needed moisture,’’ he said.
Howell said he believes the rain will end up helping him and many other local wheat farmers.
“I’m anticipating a record wheat crop (in the Grande Ronde Valley).’’