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Column: Water has always been a deep subject for city

WORTHINGTON -- John Fenstermacher was Worthington's mayor. Gordon Thompson was City Clerk. Ralph Bergstrom was manager of the Campbell Soup Co. It was those three in particular but there were others. Oh -- Ray Ager for the E.O. Olson Trust Fund.

Day and night there was a group focused on finding water for Worthington. It was a joke that Worthington is an Indian expression that means Looking for Water.

It is fair to say "day and night" for there were meetings at City Hall through noon hours, and there were meetings that extended past midnight. The water seekers sometimes admitted to spending nights tossing and turning in their beds as they continued wrestling with the Worthington water problem after meetings had been adjourned.

I saw a police officer pull up to a curb lately and admonish a Worthington man who was watering his lawn with a hose. The officer clearly was warning of the water restrictions that remain in place.

The current water problem is largely drought-related, and there was some drought in those years gone by. Chiefly, however, Worthington simply had run out of water reserves. The city's demand was greater than the supply. There were questions about whether Worthington could grow but there was an even more basic question with regard to whether Worthington could sustain itself.

Well -- many things were done. Worthington's search for water became a success story. It was the water search that created Lake Bella, giving the city another reservoir. It was the water search that located fields where shallow wells could be dug. And of course there were failures, or disappointments, along the way -- there were deep wells and shallow wells which came to be only dry holes. There were very many area residents who came to Council meetings to insist, "I know where you can find some water ..."

"A city built on a hill cannot be hidden ..." And: "A city built only a hundred feet above a core of granite will have trouble finding water."

A poet said the longest drought will end in rain. The drought the local region has experienced through more than a year also seems certain one day to end in rain. Concerns with regard to water will remain.

The latest water concern had me thinking of Ed Moore, who through many years had a sign on his property on the south side of Oxford Street that said, "Well work well done." Ed Moore knew southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa and the long pursuit of water as few other people knew them.

Ed Moore remembered when there was water nearly everywhere: "But here -- to begin with -- it was shallow wells. There was swamps and sloughs. You didn't have to go very deep to find water. After they took to tiling -- we've done a lot of tiling on this land -- the water level went down. There used to be a lot of surface water. This is wet country ..."

Ed remembered how uncertain searches for water can be: "You never know here where you will hit water and where you will hit bedrock. The deepest well at Reading is a 128 feet. On that same property -- they wanted a house well on the line between two lots -- we hit water at about 20 feet, 28 feet. That's the shallowest well. But they're not very far apart."

The thing to watch for is flowing water. "Of course with the shallow wells, they would go dry in a dry year. You drill down to where the water runs, then you've got a well."

Ed Moore could recite a history of wells and well drilling across the local area. In the beginning, "It was all wood curbing. You made it yourself. Built it like a rain barrel. The wood came in sixteen-foot lengths. You set an auger on and pushed it down.

"After the war it was all cement tile. Things got bigger.

"Well drilling went the way of the farms. Once you had all those small farms and everybody had to have a well. Every section had three or four wells. Then there were fewer and fewer farms. Bigger farms...

"Now they've got the rural water systems ..."

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays..