Letter: Institutional memory

In reading the paper last week, I was surprised by the tone of Waterpenny Farm’s attack on farmers who view any farmer who says that the requirement to fence off streams would end farming is somehow doing something wrong. Farming in Rappahannock is situational.

Farming in Rappahannock depends on the soil types and the amount of water that flows through one’s property. My farm did not have the water flow necessary to carry my cattle this year, and thus I had to sell most of my cows.

The soils in Rappahannock are generally not comparable to the soils in the neighboring counties of Fauquier and Culpeper.

Because one farmer can make it on a certain piece of ground does not mean that same practice can be carried on at another location. Economies of scale also apply as to what one can farm on 20 acres of bottom land versus what can be farmed on 500 acres of different topography, soils etc.

Also it has been shown, to my satisfaction at least, that the recharge rate of streams and springs has been rapidly reduced in my lifetime. Whether the water flow will come back or not is questionable. Anyone who draws out of the aquifer is affecting the level of the aquifer.

Water is life, and without water we are doomed. We need to be as concerned about quantity of water as well as quality of our water supplies.

Right now the cattle only use surface water and this has very little affect on the aquifer, which supplies drinking water to the people in the county.

If everyone gave water to cattle from wells, as I believe Waterpenny suggests, it would take over 200,000 gallons of water from the aquifer each day. Generally a person uses about 80 to 100 gallons of water a day. It would equate to 2,000 to 2,500 more people taking from the water table per day. If you take water from a well to water cattle or crops, you reduce the amount of water in the aquifer — thus possibly affecting everyone who has a well, certainly in this county.

What happens if the well goes dry or electricity goes off?

Farmers on the whole are very careful people. We all need to be aware of the environment and by taking care of the land it will take care of us. True farmers are circumspect in what they do, and try not to hurt or insult their neighbors.

Waterpenny is certainly entitled to their belief. However, there are many sides to this coin, and before one attacks a person or institution publicly, one should be very circumspect.

One acquires institutional memory from living and observing an area for a long time. It always amazes me how new people have the answer to everything, and how dumb and wrong are the people who have lived and survived in the county for generations.

James W. Fletcher III

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