The main culprit, Gibbs says, is sea level rise. “I do believe we are seeing a sea level rise. Whether that rise is due to global climate change is up to the scientists to determine, but I’ve seen it all my life in this county,” he adds.

There is little debate that the county, which is a true peninsula jutting out into Pamlico Sound, is losing shoreline at the rate of about three feet per year.

That may seem dramatic, but Gibbs says the loss of shoreline is not as rapid as most other coastal areas along the East Coast.

One Hyde County farmer says the loss of land to encroaching salt water is no small concern. “If we lose one inch over the next 50 years, I will lose over 100 acres from my 640 acre farming operation,” he says.

In 1886 an earthquake, which leveled Charleston, S.C., 300 miles or so to the South, dropped the soil level in Hyde County by 18 inches.

“Farmers woke up the next morning, no rain, no flood, but they had water in their fields that had never been there before. What happens if we lose a similar amount of farmland overnight?” Gibbs asks.

Saltwater intrusion is a much more dramatic threat to the county’s farmland than is loss of shoreline.

The rich, black farmland back in the days of deep tillage seemed to go on forever. In reality, about 40 inches or so down, the black soil gives way to white sand, Gibbs says.

“In years of dry weather, we lose more land to saltwater intrusion. The past 4-5 years have been abnormally dry in Hyde Country.”

In most areas of the country, irrigation would be a natural answer to drought related problems. In Hyde County, the groundwater is salt contaminated and cannot be used for irrigation.

Moving water from neighboring counties for irrigating crops would be more than economically challenging, it would be a social and legal impossibility.

The next question is why not dike the whole county and boost farm production back close the 100,000 acres it once had?

“The cost would be too high and we could never get all the people involved to agree to it,” Gibbs says.

So, perhaps the single best investment in water management and land use in North Carolina history goes largely unnoticed by the world outside Hyde County.

Most of the local people who opposed the project, now agree it was a good thing, Gibbs says.

rroberson@farmpress.com

 

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