“This is really a lifesaver to these farmers, otherwise they would have to start selling off their cattle,” said Washington County Commissioner Scott Buckingham as he watched Bruce Bacon with the Sulphur Springs Volunteer Fire Department dump 2,000 gallons of water into a nearly dry cattle pond Friday.
Over the course of this unusually dry season, Bacon has played this scene out on multiple occasions as volunteer firefighters with the Sulphur Springs department help county farmers cope with dried up ponds and wells.
“We started hauling water out to farms about two months back and as of last week, we’d hauled 177 loads — 2,000 gallons per load, which comes to around 353,100 gallons of water,” Bacon said. “Some days we’ll haul all day.”
Despite bringing water to all corners of the county, Bacon says they don’t charge for the service, but do take donations.
“To say the least, the farmers have been very generous,” he said. “We’re still getting plenty of calls every day and we’re hauling to Jonesborough, Fall Branch, Gray. Hopefully they’ll remember us, especially when we start selling Christmas trees at the station the day after Thanksgiving.
“It’s really a department thing, everybody gets involved.”
Still, that also leaves the department with the water bill at the end of month, which is where Buckingham and Washington County Emergency Management Director Nes Levotch come in.
“They’ve actually put a meter on the hydrant out at Sulphur Springs (Fire Department),” said Levotch on assistance from the city of Johnson City.
“They’re giving the water to us at actual cost.”
“Which means it costs the fire department about $5 to fill up a 2,000-3,000 gallon tanker.”
Buckingham said commissioners like himself were still working with the city in order to try to establish places in the county where people could come to get water for their homes.
“These guys have done a really good job at getting people water who really need it,” Buckingham said.
One of the places people can get clean water is at a water buffalo in the Harmony community at Valley View United Methodist — a portion of the county both Levotch and Buckingham agree has been most affected by the drought conditions.
“We’re spotty, but Harmony seems to have been hit the hardest,” Levotch said.
“I still get quite a few calls about wells running dry in Harmony and along Hartmantown Road,” Buckingham said. “No matter who it is, it means a lot when you don’t have any water.”
According to Levotch, the 400-gallon water buffaloes could be adversely affected by the onset of cold weather.
“With five or six nights of below freezing temperatures, it will affect those nozzles,” Levotch said.
However, the National Guard has offered the use of its buffaloes as well, some of which could be heated, as they are a bit more advanced than the county’s 15-year-old units.
“We’ll do all we can to help them out until we get rain and get some relief,” Levotch said. “Another thing (City Manager) Pete (Peterson) and I have talked about is, if it gets worse, we’ll set up pumps in Boone Lake near Winged Deer Park, and in the Nolichuckey River on the other end (of the county), and let the farmers come get what they need.”
Though unsure of the amount, Levotch said a local insurance company will present a check to aid with fuel costs associated with the fire departments’ delivery of water. The presentation will take place in County Mayor George Jaynes’ office today at 4 p.m.
Ben Ingram contributed to this report.