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Conservation lake is a lifesaver for farmers

Gentry County farmers are pumping about 4,000 gallons of water daily from the Conservation Department's Limpp Lake. The water is an economic lifesaver for livestock producers whose normal water supplies have evaporated in a three-year drought.Limpp Lake has become much more than a fishing hole for farmers in northwestern Missouri.

KING CITY, Mo. -- To look at Limpp Community Lake in southwestern Gentry County, you wouldn't think it was a mainstay of the local economy. But ask one of the farmers whose cattle are being sustained by the lake's waters, and you discover how versatile and important conservation areas can be.

Like much of northwestern Missouri, the King City area is in the grip of a severe, long-term drought. Precipitation has been far below normal in the region for three years. Recent rains have greened up pastures, but every drop soaked into the parched soil. Many creeks and ponds remain bone dry. For livestock producers, that can spell financial disaster.

Cattle need water. When local supplies run dry, livestock producers have two choices. They can sell their stock at bargain-basement prices, or they can buy water and haul it to their farms. But the cost of water (about 25 cents per hundred gallons), combined with the cost of hauling it, quickly cuts into farm profits.

In the past, farmers have turned to King City, which has its own drinking water supply reservoir. Mayor Jim Gillespie is sympathetic to farmers' plight. They are his neighbors. Besides, as the farm economy goes, so goes King City's economy. Anything that helps farmers helps the city, too.

However, city residents already have cut back on water use to conserve dwindling supplies. City officials were afraid they might run out of drinking water if they allowed farmers to continue drawing from the city reservoir.

Looking around for alternative water sources, Gillespie thought of Limpp Lake, a 29-acre fishing lake owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation. When the city ran out of water in 1990, they got permission to supplement their needs from Limpp Lake. So he called State Rep. Jim Guest (R-King City) and asked if he would contact the Conservation Department about using water from the lake again.

A farmer himself, Guest has raised crops, cattle and hogs in the King City area. "I totally understand the dilemma these people are in," he said. "Several years ago my ponds dried up, and I had to find water for my hogs. It's not easy."

So, early this month Guest called the Conservation Department in Jefferson City. "I got very good cooperation. We had permission to pump water in a couple of days."

James Washburn is one of the cattlemen who are using water from Limpp Lake. He said his ponds dried up last year, and he has been buying water ever since. "These ponds have never dried up since the 1960s," he said. "We have never faced this situation before. It's kind of like the flood in 1993."

Before getting access to Limpp Lake's water, Washburn was spending about $20 a day to buy water and spending 4 hours daily hauling it to his 400 white-faced black Angus cattle.

Donald Eiberger also has been hauling water from Limpp Lake. His pond dried up last January, and he had to buy water from King City and haul it to his land the rest of the winter and throughout the summer. During the hottest weather, his 60 head of Angus cattle were consuming 1,500 gallons of water daily.

Not having to pay for the water is saving Eiberger money. Just as important, Limpp Lake is only half as far from Eiberger's farm as the King City reservoir. The dump truck he uses to haul water gets 2 to 3 miles per gallon of fuel, so cutting hauling distance is a significant savings.

"I hope they keep it up as long as I need water," said Eiberger. "I know it's going to be really hard to haul water this winter if my pond is still dry, but I'm going to do it if they'll let me. I could sell my cattle, but I don't want to do that."

Fisheries Regional Supervisor Harold Kerns said he was very glad to be able to help "We looked at what they were using, and we saw that we could meet the need without endangering the fish in Limpp Lake, so we authorized the removal of up to 1.62 million gallons of water from the lake."

The Conservation Department provided a pump, and King City assigned a city employee to help with pumping operations and keep track of the amount of water removed from the lake. Since Sept. 3, farmers have been pumping about 4,000 gallons of water from the lake daily. At that rate, Kerns calculates they can pump water for a very long time without lowering the lake's level by even a foot.

"This is a case where the Conservation Department has an asset for fishing and recreation, and in an emergency it can be used to help Missourians in other ways," said Guest. "It's a good use for water that belongs to all the people of Missouri. If we don't get substantial rain before next summer, we may be back asking to pump water for King City residents."

- Jim Low -




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