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Water conservation ever important to local agriculture
This story is one in a series called Yuma County Water Rights, which takes a look at pressing water issues in the region.
While Yuma hasn't seen a large physical water shortage, Alan Jackson, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation agricultural engineer for the Yuma Area Office, said it's very encouraging to see many people locally adopting a water conservation mentality and taking the initiative to conserve water whenever possible.
Working in the Wellton-Mohawk area, Jackson helps irrigation districts to prioritize conservation efforts and determine appropriate actions for improvements.
“Through the Bureau of Reclamation's Water Conservation Field Services Program, irrigation districts can receive grant funding and technical assistance on various types of projects,” he said. “The primary focus of the program in the Yuma area has been installing flow measurement devices in canals in order to make an accurate accounting of water usage.”
Jackson said that in his opinion, Yuma County employs some of the best conservation efforts possible, especially considering how thinly water supplies are being stretched and the prolonged drought along the Colorado River.
“Yuma County farmers are well aware of the disastrous impacts a water shortage would bring and are using all practical means to conserve water.”
Jackson said that by using specialized implements to make fields perfectly level, farmers in Yuma County experience less water loss due to surface runoff, and it also helps them to irrigate more efficiently and uniformly.
“Also, most of the farm ditches in the area are concrete-lined, which prevents excessive seepage losses.”
In regards to level basin irrigation practiced in the Yuma area, which may look to passers-by like a waste of water, Jackson said it is actually recognized as a relatively efficient means of irrigation.
“Although over the years, flood irrigation has been characterized as inefficient, in practice any type of irrigation system, including drip, is only as efficient as it is properly managed. It has been my experience that Yuma farmers are anxious and willing to try any reasonable method to increase their irrigation efficiency.”
Kurt Nolte, with the University of Arizona Agriculture Extension, added that in a field irrigated through furrow, which is also often referred to as flood irrigation, there are often siphon tubes specifically placed throughout the field to conserve water.
Sometimes workers in the furrows accumulate debris or dirt clods that hinder water movement, he said, which is why early in the growing season farmers use a packing wheel to compact the soil.
Nolte explained that it is also important to note that farmers in Yuma are dealing with two varying soil types: a sandy type soil on the mesa where things like citrus and alfalfa are grown, and a soil with very high clay content in the valley where things like vegetables and wheat are grown.
“With both of those areas, the conservation requires constant vigilance for monitoring the irrigation equipment,” he said. “The growers here actually employ people to schedule irrigation so water is not wasted, it's only used in fields that actually need the water ... In some areas of the country, they just simply apply water just for the sake of applying water and in our area we have a specific schedule based on the environment ... Here it's more of a science-based irrigation.”
He noted that with sprinkler-irrigated crops in particular, someone is constantly managing the system to make sure it is working efficiently.
“They're on the job 24/7, during the winter months in particular. Let's say an irrigation pipe breaks, then if no one is watching the fields, the water is just going to run like crazy for hours at a time and that's going to waste water.”
Nolte said that growers using sprinkler irrigation take nozzle size, pipes and equipment into account to make sure that water is distributed uniformly.
Additionally, he commented that in the instance of a rainstorm, water ordered by growers for their fields can be diverted and conserved at various reservoirs built in Yuma and Imperial counties.
Nolte said that thanks to work done by the UA in prior years, growers know the best irrigation management practices to use in their fields, like what to do in sandy soil areas where the water can move more quickly, for example. He added that the UA Ag Extension is currently working at changing bed configurations to look at alternative ways to apply drip irrigation in a field.
“The grower is simply not growing this crop blind, he's got a lot of horsepower behind him, a lot of skill and a lot of knowledge based on some research that the UA has done.”
Visit www.usbr.gov/lc/yuma/programs/water_conservation.html for more information about the Yuma Area Bureau of Reclamation Office Water Conservation Program. Visit cals.arizona.edu/crops/irrigation/irrigation.html for more information about irrigation in Yuma.
Sarah Womer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.