BPA Funding Helps Columbia Basin Farmersby Peggy Steward, Washington State Staff Writer
Capital Press, April 29, 2005
The Bonneville Power Administration has provided $275,000 to help Columbia Basin farmers use field and computer technology to help reduce water and power consumption.
The BPA research/study grant through the Columbia Basin Ground Water Management Area, (GWMA), will allow another 48,000 acres to be enrolled in the ongoing Irrigation Water Management Cost Share Program this year.
"Irrigation water management scheduling is recognized as one of the best ways a grower can conserve water and power," said Paul Stoker, executive director of the Columbia Basin Ground Water Management Area, headquartered in Othello, Wash. "With the current water shortage, IWM is a good investment."
Under the program, farmers pay 50 percent of the cost and the BPA grant pays for the other half, Stoker said. "The technology provides farmers with the actual field condition, so they know how much water is in their soils and when it would be appropriate to irrigate," said Mark Nielson, manager of the Franklin Conservation District which implements the irrigation water management program in Franklin County.
Over the past seven years, GWMA has generated irrigation water management data on more than 5,000 fields. The program has helped farmers in Franklin, Adams, Grant and Lincoln counties use the new technology on an estimated 300,000 acres, about one-third of the roughly 928,000 irrigated acres in the four counties, Stoker said.
Crops under the program range across the board, Stoker said. The technology works best under overhead sprinklers, the primary kind of irrigation system used in the basin.
BPA is using the project to help establish the value of water savings to the hydroelectric industry, Stoker said. GWMA data shows that, on average, a farmer intensively managing irrigation can lower power and water consumption by more than 15 percent. The findings corroborate data from other studies.
Since the irrigation water management program began in 1998, applications to enroll in the program have far out-stripped available funding, Stoker said. About 25 percent to 30 percent of applicants have been able to participate in the limited program, meaning an estimated 200,000 acres are turned away each year.
Stoker calls that a "missed opportunity."
"If we had been able to fund those additional 200,000 acres, the water savings would have been equivalent to 100,000 acre feet of water from the Columbia River last year," Stoker said. "That's a lot of water, especially in a drought year."
If the results of the pilot project turn out as anticipated, more funding and support could follow, Stoker said.
Farmers interested in applying for the new funding should contact their local conservation districts, he said.
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