Dealing with the Drought

Dealing with the Drought

The lawns and gardens of Ashburn Village have fallen on dry times, but Sharon and Vincent Direnzo do not share their neighbors’ concerns over the current drought’s harsh toll on their suburban landscape.

The Direnzos are responsible for five cattle on their farm in western Loudoun that cannot eat the pasture’s dead grass or drink from the dry stream that once flowed healthily through their property. The Direnzos have been forced to feed the cows the typically winter diet of purchased grain and hay and to provide them water from a well on their property.

All county residents are affected by the drought, but their responses vary depending on how directly they’re impacted. The Direnzos' neighbors may react by following the voluntary water conservation measures issued at the request of the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority (LCSA), which provides water and wastewater to eastern Loudoun.

Under the current water shortage alert, LCSA customers are asked to follow the odd and even rule when watering their lawns, to inspect plumbing and repair all leaky faucets and shower heads and to wash their cars at facilities that recycle water.

For the Direnzo family, it’s about taking care of dependent animals that they sometimes treat more as pets than livestock. In hindsight, Sharon Direnzo is now quite thankful that they went conservative when they bought only five cattle after purchasing the farm in March of 2006.

Although Vincent Direnzo originally comes from a farming family, Sharon Direnzo does not.

"I’ve had to do things I never thought I’d have to do," she said, laughing. However, she says that the farm is a great family activity for her 18-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son and a welcome respite from their Ashburn neighborhood, which has become more congested and less friendly.

One day, they hope to have more animals than just cows and want the farm to be self-sustaining, if not profitable. But for now, Sharon and Vincent Direnzo, a comptroller for a real estate company and a chief operating officer for an environmental firm respectively, can acknowledge the differences between their response to the drought and the response of Loudoun’s professional farmers.

"For us, it’s responsible to take care of the cattle, but for some farmers and cattle herders, it’s their livelihood," said Sharon Direnzo.

COUNTY STAFF estimate that the total loss to the agricultural industry since January 2007 is more than $24 million, according to a document presented to the Board of Supervisors during its Monday, Aug. 6, special meeting. Included in the estimated loss are reductions in yield in the production of grain crops, hay, pastures and livestock.

Warren Howell, manager of agricultural production and innovative economic development at the Office of Rural Economic Development, said that unless the county receives hurricane rain, the drought and its costs on the agricultural industry could get even worse. Compounding the problem of no rain, says Howell, is the lack of irrigation systems in western Loudoun due to sufficient rainfall in the past.

Howell owns a farm in Purcellville where he grows raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. Due to the lack of water in his irrigation pond, his blueberry plants failed to produce fruit this year.

During the Aug. 6 special meeting, the Supervisors voted to ask Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) to petition the United States Department of Agriculture to declare Loudoun a drought disaster area. In addition, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) wrote a letter to the secretary of agriculture Aug. 10 in support of designating Loudoun a disaster area.

If Loudoun is recognized as a disaster area by USDA inspectors, low-interest loans and supplemental relief from the federal government will be offered to those affected by the conditions. Until federal relief arrives, Howell says that even Loudoun residents can help offset the financial burden leveled on farmers by the drought.

"By going to the farmers market and buying fruits and vegetables, people are supporting local farmers," he said.

FOR MANY RESIDENTS of eastern Loudoun, however, the first fields that come to mind when discussing the drought don’t belong to corn or cows, but to soccer. Debbie Bicer, president of Loudoun Soccer, said that the organization is following the county’s water restrictions, but that teams and parents are worried about the fields’ conditions for the coming soccer season.

"We are very concerned about safety and player development on the dry fields," said Bicer. "The field is such a big part of our game. We don’t just play on it, we use it."

Only a small percentage of Loudoun Soccer’s fields are irrigated and even those fields are suffering from the intense heat and the county’s water restrictions. All-leather turf fields are Bicer’s goal, but she says that for now Loudoun Soccer really doesn’t have many other options in the county.