Crow River drenches farms, gardens

BY SUSAN VAN CLEAF

susan.vancleaf@ecm-inc.com

Minor flooding of the Crow River between Delano and Rockford last week submerged hopes of some gardeners and farmers for a dry, bountiful growing season.

Since then, water levels have begun to drop, and the National Weather Service (NWS) Monday, June 4, expected this trend to continue. The effect of flooding on crops for this growing season remains to be seen.

As the river crested, Thursday, May 31, some farmers’ fields nearby lay under water and gardens in low-lying areas began to resemble ponds.

This soggy state of affairs happened after spring came early, with warm temperatures and soil dry enough for planting. Garden centers were attracting people eager to get their hands dirty by getting early vegetables into the ground. And tenant farmers along 65th Street in Franklin Township planted row after row of vegetables, watermelons and other fruits.

Wally Johnson, who lives along the river in Franklin Township, observed events in his back yard and across the river. With a certain amount of awe, he reported 10 inches of rain over nine days in late May, according to his rain gauge. His back yard was under five to six feet of water. He could gauge the depth of the water by looking at his bluebird houses out back.

With even more awe, he talked about determination of tenant farmers across the river. Despite the heavy rain, they continued to place plants in the soil by hand. Fortunately, some of their plantings were on higher ground.

As the Crow River neared its crested on Thursday, May 31, the tenant farmers still were working away in rich black dirt next to their new lake. Water poured into the field from a new small stream that came from the river.

At a farmhouse next door, a young man said the new lake held fish, and people were stopping by asking for chances to catch dinner. He told them, "No."

At least, flooding on his land was not as bad as last year, when cold water flowed into his barn, he said.

A little further south, Dick Nordling of Delano frowned at his plot in the Delano Community Garden, located in Delano Central Park. "I should have just planted rice," he said in frustration.

Some of the people with garden plots had tried to drain water off the garden by digging trenches, Nordling said. And still the soil in the Community Garden resembled a drenched sponge.

He feared that it would take a long time for the Community Garden to dry out, and it would be too late for tomatoes and anything else with a long growing season. He has 20 tomato plants, along with rutabagas, beets and other vegetables in the ground.

Jan Johnson, one of the organizers of the Community Garden, looked at the situation optimistically. "No decision on the garden," she said. "It’s just got bad in the last week. Hopefully, the water will go down quickly."

Meanwhile, the NWS reported that the Crow River crested at minor flood stage of 16.77 feet in Delano at about noon, Friday, June 1. The water level in the river fell steadily after that, dropping to 15.4 feet on Monday, June 4 in Delano and 9.1 feet in Rockford – below flood stage for both cities.

The NWS expected the water level to continue to drop steadily during the following week – receding to about 12.75 feet in Delano and 6.75 feet in Rockford by Monday, June 11. But the Weather Service said that significant rainfall could change those predictions.

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