Wells or bust
Worried that lack of water will endanger their cattle, some ranchers are digging their own wells.
Fuss, the cattleman, whose ranch is a few miles southeast of the lake, said he dug his two wells for $8,000 because he was fed up with the stress of the shortage and the $400 to $500 a month he was paying the water association. The association has raised rates and imposed surcharges in recent years.
“Best money I ever spent,” Fuss said. “The more water I used, the more they charged me … So I dug my own wells.”
Decisions like Fuss’ are not made lightly.
“I was lucky we struck water,” Fuss said. “I have a neighbor six miles to the north who dug for water and found nothing. Another neighbor a mile east of me dug and didn’t get enough water to water his garden. So we were lucky.”
Cavett, the Payne County commissioner, drilled two wells on his property near Glencoe. Both were dry.
“Drilling wells is a gamble in this region,” Cavett said. “Even if you hit water, you don’t know if it will be drinkable, because the sulfur content can sometimes be very high.”
Oklahoma law allows property owners to drill for water with few restrictions if the water is for household purposes, farm or domestic animals, or irrigation of gardens, orchards or lawns up to three acres. Well drillers must get a state license, and their wells must be built to regulation, mainly to prevent contaminants from seeping into groundwater. As with Fuss’ wells, the cost can run in the thousands.
An alternative to drilling is to haul water, bought from nearby towns or friends.
Several miles to southeast of Glencoe, in the town of Yale, cattle rancher Roy Matlock is running out of options. He bypassed the expense and risk of drilling wells to haul water daily to his cattle for five months last summer with a 275-gallon tank mounted to his truck.
The 17-mile round trip and the fear of losing cattle forced him to sell 15 cows and 30 calves. For now, the remainder of his herd grazes on his acreage on the outskirts of Yale, drinking water from a dwindling pond.
“If this drought continues,” Matlock said, “I’ll be out of the cattle business in two years.”