Wettest July at Hermits’ Rest – How Do I Know?

Guess what? There’s still rain in the forecast for today. That means it will have rained every day so far in July. So, we’ve had no friends over, no family celebration…not much of anything. But that’s okay, I’ve had time to read and clean. Yesterday, it really rained a lot. We knew it was at least two inches, because the tanks filled up.

The overflow was overflowing!

If it just rains a little, the water rises just a bit in the front tank. It doesn’t usually overflow unless there is runoff from its main sources:

  • The small pond by the house (we built a ditch to funnel the water thee)
  • The big tank over at the Wild Hermits front pasture (that comes through the arroyo)
  • The cotton field across the road (there is a culvert, and it also just comes over the road)
  • Runoff from the tank and other areas by Sara’s house (they are higher than us), which goes down their driveway at quite a clip

One reason we built the tank where we did is we knew it would have a lot of water flowing in, so it would not dry up too often. So far, it hadn’t totally dried up yet.

Water is swiftly flowing down the driveway, taking lots of road base with it. Photo by Lee.

All of THAT water quickly fills up our little tank, which then sends water down our stream to Walker’s Creek. This is all pretty spectacular right after a hard rain. When we went to feed the horses (by car, because it was flooding), water was over the road and much of the driveway to the horse pens. It was flowing strongly. By the time we went back, it had already settled down to a brisk flow.

After the rain. Photo by Lee.

Now, in the fall and spring, this is going to happen a few times. That’s how it rains here, with dry spells followed by floods. However, it rarely rains much at all in July. In fact, today is July 5, with rain in the forecast, and it is already the wettest July we’ve had since Lee started tracking it right after the Big Drought in 2011-2012.

All the years but 2021 are for the whole month. And no, I don’t know why Lee tracks data with the current year on the left, but I’m just grateful for the data.

One of the things people are noticing about this year is that everything seems to be skewed a month late, thanks for the Winter Storm Uri event in February. Maybe we are getting June’s usual rain pattern, just a bit late. Or Global Warming. I don’t know; I’m not a meteorologist.

Here’s our rain pattern since we’ve been here. You can sure see when we have floods! From Lee’s spreadsheet.

This year started out like it was going to be one of our dryer years, but who knows at this point? All I know is that the later the tanks fill up, the more likely they are to not go dry until the rains start up again in the fall. (Don’t let August fool you; most years it barely rains in July OR August.)

Hey, fellow cattle, isn’t this the most dangerous area to be standing, right where the culvert spurts out water and there’s scary clay? Yes! Let’s all stand here. (Last week, there was just a small puddle by the culvert.)

Texas weather is quite variable, so we’ve enjoyed tracking the patterns here in the Post Oak Savannah region. My guess is that the patterns where you live are also interesting, so I encourage you to get a good rain gauge, like the one we use, the Stratus Precision Rain Gauge, and start tracking. You can learn a lot about trends, as well as exceptions! I’m grateful to Lee for his diligence in his own Citizen Science project.

Built to the National Weather Service specifications, the Stratus is exceptionally accurate. It is the rain gauge of choice for official weather observers in the United States.

https://www.weatherstationadvisor.com/best-rain-gauge/

Now to go check on chickens and move Apache to the dry pen. It’s rather sloppy over there, so all of us slip and slide. I will be very glad when we can get back to work on the pens so we can move him, though I’ll wager our pens will also get muddy and slick, because they are on the clay soil, too. On the other hand, someone said that a couple inches of good rain would really pack down the new driveway. I’d say it’s pretty packed now.

Tanks? Ponds?

I live in Texas, on a cattle ranch, though none of the cattle here are mine. The cattle here mostly drink out of artificial ponds, because as any Texas naturalist knows, there’s only one natural lake in Texas (Caddo Lake, on the Louisiana border). Thus, any pond you see is made by a human or beaver.

There’s a tank in the middle of those flowers down the road.

However, any native Texan will tell you those cattle aren’t drinking out of (and cooling off in, and pooping in) ponds. Oh no. Those are tanks. Stock tanks or cattle tanks. You sound like a city person if you call them ponds.

Our lovely small pond that sometimes merges with the creek.
I don’t know how long they stay so pristine.

I’m telling you all this because I’ve recently had a couple questions about what the heck a cattle tank is. First, stock tanks in most places are like big water troughs made of metal or plastic. People like to make them into swimming pools. But that’s a normal tank.

These are attached to water supplies and have valves to keep water at the right level. We have some here, as well. The goldfish in there have really grown, to my happiness.

There ARE fish in here.

But most properties have one or more of these in-ground tanks, made usually by damming an arroyo or other place where water naturally goes, then digging out a big hole. This is how we made our front “pond.” Our driveway is the dam.

The tank we made. Those trees grew up since we built the dam/driveway.

All the other tanks on the property are much older. Our neighbor’s son remembers swimming in them. Um, I see too many snakes to consider that. The big tanks have very tall dams around them, created by digging the holes. The dam around the front tank next door is really tall, and Fiona freaks out at it. I still don’t know why.

Looking down the ditch that drains into the big tank. Look carefully on each side to see the dam.

Because I wanted to know more about the history of tanks in Texas, I looked it up and found a fine article from Texas Monthly that fascinated me. For example, I learned that 80% of the tanks in Texas have fish in them, even ones that haven’t been stocked. I’ve seen catfish in ours!

The tank behind our house has plenty of fish for the herons, and is popular with cattle and dogs for cooling off. There’s only a dam on one side, but it’s tall!

I also learned that there are subsidies for building tanks that prevent erosion. That may explain why Texas has more of these man-made bodies of water than any other US state. I actually think that’s what my neighbor does, advise people about building tanks. I should ask, huh. My friend Phyllis confirms this; I’d call them tanks, too, if I got paid!:

My Dad always said that the government would pay farmers to put in stock tanks in the early 1900’s. So if you built a pond for your livestock you paid for it, but if you built a “tank” for your livestock the government paid for most and sometimes all of it…

Of course, as my friend Lynn also pointed out, when you build a tank, the State owns the surface water. That’s one of those weird Texas technicalities.

One thing I do know is that it’s easier to build a tank when you have some clay in your soil. In sandy places, you have to add a layer of clay so it will hold water. We have a couple of dry tanks here, too. Animals like to hide in them. See, I paid attention in my Master Naturalist classes. I obviously think tanks are cool.

Some old tanks look pretty darned natural, like the one next to Walker’s Creek cemetery.

And finally I was happy to read my favorite thing about tanks is not just mine and my naturalist friends. Tanks now attract all kinds of plants and animals that might not be there if we hadn’t put the water there for them. Long after the cattle ranches are gone, the tanks will remain, drying up in drought and refilling when there’s lots of rain.

The little front pond in a drought. Not much water (2013)

Yes, pond, tank, or whatever, these artificial watering holes will provide us with ample nature watching opportunities and provide habitat for so much life. Hooray for tanks!

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