Feds step in to help California conserve water

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Farmers in California are benefiting from federal funding that is going to help pay for a state-of the-art irrigation project that will help conserve water.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $13 million and includes the building of two small reservoirs to catch irrigation runoff for reuse and installing drip and sprinkler systems on farms west of Ripon, Calif.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is providing $1 million toward the project. The federal Natural Resources Conservation Services has an additional $5 million to help with farmers’ costs in this project and four others in the California San Joaquin Valley, reports the Modesto Bee. The South San Joaquin Irrigation District is providing the majority of the funding.

While the majority of the farms in this water district are tree and vines, 42 dairy farms call this water district home.

The dairy farms in this area will see two main benefits from this new water conservation project, says Jeff Shields, general manager of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District. “This new project will reduce the competition for ground water and relieve pressure on the water table as other farms make the switch to drip and sprinkler irrigation which will utilize surface water.” Most dairy farms don’t use surface water for irrigation.

Benefits will also be seen from the building of a second reservoir. “Currently, there is no reservoir in this area, and when we put it in, we will be able to capture water that has previously gone into the river. This will eliminate the possibility of polluting the river through run-off,” notes Shields.

In addition, any dairy farm that irrigates by sprinkler irrigation could tap into this new system.

The majority of the farmland in this district has historically been irrigated through flood irrigation. Through this new project, farms will be able to switch to drip and sprinkler irrigation, which will reduce water used to grow crops by half.

“The project is intended to protect the water rights of the farms in our district and going forward demonstrate environmental stewardship,” notes Shields. Water conserved will also help ensure that there is water available in dry years.

The project is expected to start construction this July and finish in March of next year.

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David Armstrong    
Alachua, FL  |  May, 20, 2011 at 11:14 AM

I would like to see a cost estimate of an irrigation pipeline or canal from the Mississippi River across the center of the country to Oklahoma,West Texas and to Caifornia to pull water into reservoirs, especially during Flood times paid for by private funding without government(borrowed from China) funding.Until the Federal budget is balanced ALL federal programs need to be cut back!

WB Jones Jr    
Littlefield, Tx  |  May, 21, 2011 at 06:26 AM

Good question. As I remember, the price was 33 billion in 1960 to install gates and locks to divert Mississippi River water up the Arkansas River, then over to the Great Plains. The study was conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers in Oklahoma City office. Wind Turbines in Western Oklahoma now available for pumping during times of low demand on the electrical power grid. From an engineering view, the project is doable. Solves several problems: Flood control, arid land use, expands low cost transportation of goods between Tulsa and Gulf of Mexico

Philip Lewis    
Salem, NY  |  May, 20, 2011 at 12:23 PM

Perhaps it would make more sense to divert all of this money to promote and assist Northeastern dairy producers. The Northeast is not suffering from a chronic, long term water shortage. Does it make sense to spend all of this money to assist only 43 California dairies? Without tax subsidized water access, California and other Western states would essentially be deserts. Would a holstein cow rather live in New York State, Vermont or Tulare, California?

Watertown, WI  |  May, 31, 2011 at 10:06 AM

It is mostly about tree and vine crops; certainly the dairy industry does stand to benefit, if they can afford their share of the cost to tap into the system. The total cost estimate is $13 million, and if you divide the $5 million equally between four projects, the actual federal money going here is slightly over $2 million. Minor when compared to federal funding for energy projects and defense. There aren't many areas conducive to tree and vine production in the United States, either from a climate or infrastructure standpoint. The dairy industry on the West coast has the opportunity to supply Asian and Pacific Rim export opportunities since they are geographically closer to those markets. The entire US industry benefits as we saw in 2007-08 and again this year in price increases for all dairy products from this increased demand. Would those export opportunities still be there if our West Coast milk production was not?

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