From GENE LOGSDON
There is nothing so lovely as a pasture field with a creek running through it, but you will pay for it a thousand times over. If you have a pasture, you have livestock grazing there, and so where the creek enters and exits the pasture, you must have fencing decidedly different from what you have on dry land to keep your animals from wading out of the pasture and to keep your neighbor’s animals from wading in. We’ve always called them floodgates. So far as I know, no one has yet invented one that really works without spending a fortune. I was certain, when confronted with the necessity of floodgates, that I could design one that would work without my constant attention. A hundred or so floodgates later, I admitted defeat.
Here is the situation. The gate or fencing over the creek should be able to rise as the water rises and then settle back in place when the water recedes. If you just run fencing through the creek, like three strands of barbed wire, the flooding creek will make short work of it. That’s because water is not the only thing that flows down the flooding creek: also tree limbs, corn stalks, dead grass, flotsam of all kinds and all this mish-mash tends to pile up against your floodgates and eventually they give way. So what you need, as farmers for centuries have realized, is a gate than rises with the water. Seems simple. Just stretch a pole or cable across the creek and hang a swinging gate on it. As the water rises, it pushes the gate out and upwards and as it recedes the gate floats back down in place. Never is there an opportunity for animals to get past it.
But soon, very soon, the floodgate designer is confronted with the Great Mystery of Moving Water. In order to hang the gate above the creek, there must be posts or anchors or something on each bank to hold the cable or rod from which the gate hangs. What happens is that during flood time, the moving water in the creek will gnaw away at the dirt around any obstacle in its path, like for instance a post, eating determinedly back into the bank, year by year moving out the dirt on the bank side of the posts that hold the floodgates. Eventually, sooner rather than later, the creek is twice as wide at that point than it was before floodgates. Even if you are lucky enough have two big trees positioned across the creek from each other to act as anchors, the water will eventually sweep away the dirt from around the roots and collapse the tree. Your posts will sag as the area of washed out bank behind them deepens and that area must be constantly blocked off with additional gating of some kind. But the more you block the water that way, the more stubbornly it will eat away at it. Doesn’t sound logical, I know, but believe me, you could put a cement wall back into the banks on either side of the creek five feet and the flooding waters would eventually eat away the dirt at the ends of it. I suppose if you went twenty feet back into the banks, you might win the battle but no one is going to put that kind of money into a measly little creek.
My father finally just bowed to reality and stretched several old board gates across the creek and up the bank on either side to connect with regular fencing, with flimsy steel fenceposts to hold the gates in place. Every year the gap got wider. Every year the wooden gates jammed full of flotsam, broke over and were partially swept away. Every year there was a spring day scheduled for repairing and replacing floodgates. According to tradition, a farmer was responsible for the floodgate where the creek entered his property, not where it exited. This often led to trouble when one neighbor did not have livestock and refused to do floodgate maintenance.
So finally it was my turn to tend to floodgates and after a youth of helping repair the things, and seeing animals find a way through them when they got dilapidated, I was going to show the world how to do it right. I built a foot bridge across the creek, using old electric posts. I hung board gates from the bridge. I of course had to have posts on either bank set deep in the earth to keep the bridge intact. I was so proud of myself.
Year by year, high water got under the bridge at either end and washed away the dirt little by little. I had to put in more posts to hold the bridge in place and add to the bridge. More posts meant more water gouging. But it did last about eight years so I shouldn’t feel too defeated.
What I finally ended up doing was to place light, easy to handle, cattle panels across the creek and up the bank on either side— the gap between the banks was by then twice as wide as it had been when I installed the first floodgate. I used skinny steel fence posts to hold the panels on either side of the waterway— less blockage of water. I set two panels, each 16 ft. long, in the creek and up the banks, fastened at one end to the posts on the banks, with only a very flimsy piece of wire holding them together in a standing position in the middle of the stream. High water swept them open and back against the downstream bank and I had to be sure I was there when the water receded to dig them out of the mud and stand them back up in place again. Not fun.
It’s too late for me, as I have admitted defeat and retired from pasture farming with two cattle panel floodgates still buried in the creek mud. But if any of you have found a low cost floodgate that really works more or less on its own, let me know. It is time that creek-side farmers got a break from the almighty power of moving water.