Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Farmville (Part VIII): Got water?

This past summer, the United States Bureau of Reclamation pledged 1 million dollars towards a water conversion program in the South San Joaquin Irrigation District (SSJID). The federal money comes at a time when Central Valley farmers have been experiencing a dry spell, costing them up to 1.5 billion in lost income. This dry spell resulted from drought and the lack of water.

The Delta Smelt receives a substation portion of water allocation. The smelt is a fish protected by the Endangered Species Act. Conservationists argued that the Smelt were dying in irrigation pumps. Consequently, a judge ruled that the pumps must be shut off for the growing season.

Historically farmers in the Central Valley have irrigated using flood irrigation. Flood irrigation involves building ridges around the land and flooding (or nearly flooding) the crops with water. Though a locally common method of irrigation, it requires large volumes of water. The use of flood irrigation, paired with water droughts and water allocation to the Delta Smelt, has caused competition for groundwater and has put pressure on the water table. Additionally, the water has become increasingly salty, causing lower crop production.

To combat the water scarcity problem, SSJID has been working on an irrigation enhancement project for the past three years. The project will increase the efficiency of water delivery and reduce reliance on groundwater pumping by replacing the current open channel system with a state-of-the-art pressurized irrigation system. In addition to allocating 1 million dollars to the program, the US Bureau of Reclamation has pledged another 5 million to farmers who make related improvements.

Growers in Division 9 of SSJID have already signed onto the program, which will add roughly 100,000 feet of new pipe to deliver water to farmers adopting drip and sprinkler irrigation. these methods allow water to drip slowly to the roots and use less water than traditional flood irrigation. The system is expected to provide better quality surface water while reducing demand on the aquifer. Additionally, the project incorporates automated water delivery controls and updated metering technology. This allows for precise measurement and accounting of water. When completed, the project will also include two seven-acre storage basins and several pump stations. The new system will capture irrigation runoff and divert water into the storage basins for conservation in cases of drought or shortages. SSJID officials project that the project with conserve 3,498 acre-feet of water per year, resulting in energy conservation, reduced air emissions, and improved water quality. Because of these efforts, SSJID staff estimates a 50% reduction in agricultural water use and a 30% boost in farm production. SSJID plans to complete the project by March 2012.

Proponents of the project have touted it as a triumph of improved technology and smart water management in an area plagued by salinity and water supply programs. The project aims to solve an agricultural water shortage problem in the Central Valley, while still conserving water and energy. If the water saving technology is successfully incorporated into SSJID's water delivery program, the project could establish a benchmark for similar projects throughout the Central Valley.


Namora said...

This is such great news coming from a state in which farmers and environmentalists constantly battle over water. Technological solutions are key to solving California's ongoing water battles, especially since shortages are considered to only rise in the future due to climate change. Rather than battle over the little water we have, why not realize that Californian's depend on farming and environmental health? I think investing in better water usage practices to help conserve water for all kinds of uses is the only solution to the problem!

oceguera said...

I was wondering how farmers were going to be effected by water shortages in the near future. My curiosity peaked when I found out that the klamath dams were doing to be un-damed. Many farmers in the central valley depend heavily on the diversion of water from the north to the south. It is great to hear how more environmentally friendly techniques can help farmers with the rising anxieties of water shortages.