Editorial: ‘Earth Day’ weekend

The weather forecast calls for possible rain on the parade of Fodderstack runners this Saturday. But few of these 10K racers will mind, I bet. Outdoor athletes are by definition in touch with the earth they pound – and understand that the small patch of the Planet Earth known as Rappahannock County could surely use the precipitation.

Others are what could be called drought-deniers. They’re generally nice people, in fact can be counted on as good friends. But they always complain whenever it rains: “What beautiful weather we’ve been having. Don’t you love it? Let’s just hope rain doesn’t spoil this weekend.”

For them, it doesn’t matter what science says. And, as for the facts that Rappahannock farmers can feel in their bones, the deniers can always find evidence to the contrary.

Here is just one of those facts, as gathered by the U.S. Geological Survey at Battle Run’s confluence with the Thornton River near Laurel Mills: At 9:45 a.m. this Wednesday (April 18), the stream flow or discharge measured 8.8 cubic feet per second. The mean discharge rate for April, as measured since 1958, is 41 cubic feet per second.

Stream flows, as an indicator of the effect of precipitation (or the lack of it) on the earth’s hydrologic system, are just one way to measure drought. Others are precipitation levels themselves, groundwater levels and reservoir storage. According to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Virginia Tech’s Water Resources Research Center, Rappahannock County is now experiencing a “moderate hydrologic drought.”  

That portion of neighboring Fauquier County lying in the Potomac watershed is experiencing the even worse conditions of a “severe hydrologic drought.”

Another indicator of drought conditions, of course, is the high risk of wildfires. Already 30,000 acres have burned in Virginia over the last two weeks. The closest to home are in Page County (4,000 acres) and Shenandoah County (755 acres). Arson is the suspected cause of the Page County wildfire, but whoever set the fire would no doubt deny it.

Walter Nicklin