Anxiousness Sets In As Severe Drought Conditions Persist

07.15.16 | Bob Price

The last time he suffered through a summer this dry, Paul Zittel was just a kid, watching his father manage their family farm in Eden Valley without the luxury of a modern irrigation system.

"He would just run out of water," Zittel said, "and then we'd pray."

They prayed for rain-- the only thing that could help them save the crops during drought conditions. Decades later, Zittel and his own sons are still praying for rain, as they endure the severe drought that has punished Erie County and most of the Western New York region this summer. These days, they at least have the advantage of technology, which allows them to irrigate all day long.

"You maintain things, but you really can't keep ahead," Zittel said. "You do all you can do, and you just keep it going."

Zittel said one of his farms south of Eden is so desperate for water that he's applied with the Erie County Water Authority for a device to connect with a fire hydrant. He already ordered 800 feet of hose to transfer county water from the hydrant into a pond as an emergency water source. As 2 On Your Side reported earlier this week, WD Henry and Sons in Eden has already obtained a permit to use the fire hydrant device.

Robert Lichtenthal, the Deputy Director for the Erie County Water Authority, said his agency has received several "out of the ordinary" calls for help during the past week and a half beacuse of the dry weather. The authority has strict requirements for issuing permits for the hydrant devices, out of respect to public safety. Any person or business who receives a permit must undergo special training to use the device.

2016 is a summer for the ages, Lichtenthal said, pointing to the fact that the Erie County Water Authority's production has increased by nearly 40 percent over the past six weeks. The authority's baseline production usually hovers between 65 million and 70 million gallons per day, but so far this summer, it has consistently pumped nearly 90 million gallons per day, responding to the needs of more than 168,000 customers attempting to survive through the heat.

"I will say this to our customers: We understand the demand for water, but please understand it is a precious resource," Lichtenthal said. "We're very fortunate to be on the Great Lakes with the supply we have, but we should still be conscious of not wasting it."

The record high for the agency was 126 million gallons in one day, back in June 2007.

As for Zittel, his irrigation system in Eden Valley is helping him keep churning this summer. But he knows -- or at least hopes -- this drought can't last forever.

"It's getting pretty critical now," Zittel said.