Capital Press | Water Capital Press Wed, 25 Nov 2015 06:42:52 -0500 en Capital Press | Water Energy Trust lends a hand with irrigation efficiency Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:24:14 -0500 LACEY JARRELL More consistent water application can mean greater water and power savings for large- or small-scale farmers.

According to Luke Robison, manager of Shasta View Irrigation District in Malin, Ore., when Shasta View installed a variable frequency drive at its seven-pump district station, it allowed them to stabilize water pressure and reduce water fatigue on the delivery system.

He said the device, installed with help from an Energy Trust of Oregon cost-share program, reduced the district’s operating pressure by nearly 20 percent and reduced irrigation costs by about $60,000 annually.

Robison noted the pressure reduction didn’t make less water available, but it allowed water managers to distribute the water more efficiently. He said the VFD works like a cruise control, automatically compensating for pump variation and changes in pressure.

Robison said Energy Trust covered roughly half of the $216,000 project.

Doug Heredos, Energy Trust program manager for agriculture, said the Shasta View project is considered larger than average, but it’s not uncommon for the organization to pay 50 percent of VFD projects.

Energy Trust’s irrigation incentives are designed to encourage farmers to grow crops more efficiently with less energy, he added. Water savings can be an additional benefit, along with labor and fuel savings.

“Oftentimes, the water, labor and fuel savings are just as valuable to the grower as the energy efficiency benefits,” Heredos said.

Seus Family Farms owner Scott Seus, said he has installed in several on-farm VFD pumps on his wells in Oregon and California.

“That’s where you save because you can fine tune the settings,” he said.

“Instead of the old way, which was just go turn on a switch and what you get is what you get, you can change the setpoint to how many gallons per minute you are pulling,” Seus said. “You only draw out of the ground what you are actually using.”

Farmer Gary Derry said in most cases one VFD provides enough to flexibility to achieve farm goals. He explained that the pump can be programmed to compensate for full-demand or partial deliveries, depending on farm needs. Derry said most irrigation systems run on maximum pressure, meaning water is commonly over-pumped.

“You only have one speed — it’s on or off,” Derry said. “With the variable speed you’re more consistent with what you do pressure-wise and water delivery-wise.”

Derry noted that even with a cost-share program, VFDs are expensive to buy and maintain. He advised understanding immediate farm needs and long-term goals before investing in large projects like these.

Most Energy Trust customers work directly with local irrigation vendors, according to Heredos. He said the collaboration helps farmers identify the size and type of VFD they need and it helps ensure it will meet the efficiency standards to qualify for an Energy Trust incentive.

Seus said for farmers, electricity and water will always be inextricably linked.

“We benefit by producing better crops, by using better distribution uniformity, and using the water where it’s needed, when it’s needed — with the lowest cost of energy,” he said.

District ‘drives’ to improve water uniformity, efficiency Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:23:19 -0500 Erick Peterson A major cost of irrigating cropland is the electricity used to pump water, and the Benton Conservation District in Washington state provides financial incentives to help farmers reduce their power costs and save water.

The district recently paid $50,000 in cost-share assistance for a 1,000-horsepower variable frequency drive for the water pump. The drive changes the frequency of the electricity going to the pump, changing the speed it operates.

The drive was installed at the start of the last growing season.

The drive represents a major step forward, Mark Nielson, Benton Conservation District director said, as it helps maintain an otherwise difficult balance.

“In the old days, if you have too many pivots, your pressure would drop and you would get poor water uniformity,” Nielson said. “Conversely, if you have too many pumps running, you have too much water pressure and that chews up energy.”

The variable drive speeds up when more pivots are running and slows down as pivots are shut off, thereby maintaining optimal water pressure in the pivots.

“And the more you uniformly you apply water, the more water savings you create,” said Heather Wendt, assistant manager of the Benton district.

This is good for savings and conservation, she said.

The district installed the drive on Berg Farms, in the Horse Heaven Hills in Benton County. It saves an estimate 646,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, she said.

After “minimal fine-tuning,” the landowners were pleased, she said.

“They love it,” she said. “They’re thrilled with it.”

When the drives were first developed, they were most common in locations such as the Horse Heaven Hills, where water had to be lifted from rivers. They were not often used in the nearby Yakima Valley or Franklin County, where canals carry water to farms.

Now, as their prices have dropped, the drives are becoming more common, Nielson said.

“You’re seeing these more often in places,” he said, “and we’re happy to help with them.”

Effort returns year-round flow to Idaho creek Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:22:38 -0500 Hear Smith Thomas An effort that began last fall will make Carmen Creek near Lemhi, Idaho, a year-round stream again, aiding fish passage and helping ranchers receive the irrigation water they need.

Dan Bertram, project manager for the Upper Salmon Basin Watershed Program, is working on the effort, which involves moving the point of irrigation diversion for two ranches.

This will allow a minimum of 1.2 cubic feet per second to be transferred down Carmen Creek from a nearby ditch, making it a perennial stream again, Bertram says. In the past, part of the creek went dry almost every summer during irrigation season.

Bill Slavin is one of the ranchers involved.

“Our water has always come out of Carmen Creek. ... We’ve had trouble with some of that ground the ditch goes through, with a lot of subdivisions,” Slavin says.

“Those people think it’s like a faucet they can turn on or off whenever they want, rather than according to their water right,” he explained.

Their erratic use makes it hard to regulate the amount downstream, he says.

The ranchers do most of the work to maintain the ditch.

“Everyone tried to get together in the spring to do some maintenance before we turn water on, but then it was up to ranchers to adjust the headgate when the creek went up or down. We end up doing the work and they get the benefit. They are on the front end of the ditch and we are on the tail end,” he says.

“That’s the main reason we looked into this change to sprinklers instead of flood irrigating. We will be able to rely on how much water we’ll actually have, and when,” Slavin says.

“Before, we’d set a dam, but when we come back either the water is not there, or it’s a lot more than we expected because screens on the subdivision sprinkler systems hadn’t been cleaned and are plugged up. Then all the water would come down to us. My ground is steep, and this could wash the hillside away,” he says.

“Now we’ll have to deal with pumps and more mechanical problems, but we should be able to get a better crop,” he says.

The project will pump water to Bill and Derrold Slavin from a canal on Big Flat.

“This will allow more flow to stay in Carmen Creek — from our headgate on down to the river. This was what was attractive to people interested in the fish,” he says.

“Ours wasn’t the last headgate, but close to it, and the next rancher had to put a dam across the creek to get his water right, which pretty much shuts the flow off for fish passage,” Slavin says.

“The plan is to have it finished before we start irrigating this spring,” he says. “We are optimistic it will work. I worry about having trouble with pumps, but we’ve had trouble with ditches, too.”

Grants help farmers fend off junipers Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:21:31 -0500 LACEY JARRELL In Oregon, livestock and wildlife can benefit from small grants for watershed improvement.

Last year, Frank Hammerich was awarded a small grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board that helped him clear junipers from a 40-acre parcel of his ranch near Bonanza, Ore.

“The junipers just kind of overtook everything and they needed to get thinned out,” Hammerich said.

The grant paid for a professional tree company to cut down dozens of junipers with a hydraulic clamp; other younger, smaller trees were cut by hand with pruning shears. Species like mountain mahogany and ponderosa pine were left to flourish in the newly opened space.

Hammerich secured his OWEB grant locally from the Klamath Watershed Partnership. But, according KWP project manager Roger Smith, the grants are available statewide. He said the maximum is $10,000, although total project costs may be more because landowners are required to pay in-kind, roughly one-quarter of the cost.

Smith noted that OWEB grants are available for a host of watershed improvements such as riparian fencing and bank stabilization.

“It just needs to have a watershed benefit,” Smith said. “We’ve been dealing with juniper removal, but there are lots of opportunities.”

According to OWEB Grant Program Coordinator Courtney Shaff, every year each of the state’s 28 districts is awarded $100,000 for watershed projects. The small grant program lets landowners to make on-the-ground improvements that benefit water quality, water quantity, and fish and wildlife, she said.

Smith said juniper removal is a good fit for the program because the trees commonly outcompete other species for water. Juniper trees have been recorded drawing more than 30 gallons per day, he said.

“The lack of wildfires has allowed junipers to take hold at a level and a density that never existed naturally,” Smith said. “By removing the juniper, you have an immediate impact on the grasses, forbes and shrubs in the area — so you allow more livestock and wildlife production.”

Hammerich said that before the removal, the juniper-covered land looked like a jungle. The encroaching trees were so dense, he said, grass disappeared and timber species, like pine, became stunted. In addition, soil erosion increased because no ground cover or shallow roots existed to slow surface water flows.

“Everything just washed off,” Hammerich said.

Although tree removal took less than one month to complete, project maintenance will be ongoing, Hammerich said. He plans to replant the parcel with dryland seed to stabilize the soil and to prevent noxious weeds from taking hold.

“I’ll have to take care of that for the next couple of years. When you disturb ground, it brings those weeds to the forefront,” Hammerich said.

As part of the grant agreement, he must also maintain the area for five years, cutting down any junipers or other unwanted species that emerge.

Conservation district saves money with new building Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:20:07 -0500 Erick Peterson The Franklin Conservation District will move this spring from the USDA Agricultural Service Center in Pasco, Wash., to a new building nearby.

Board member Chris Herron and other district officials say, however, that people who currently depend on the district have nothing to worry about, as it will continue to offer the same services.

Actually, they said, the district will have a little more to offer.

Herron, a wheat farmer, said that the district is well prepared for the transition. Through strong management of its resources, he said, the district saved money to construct the new building.

Still, Heather Wendt, assistant manager of the Franklin and Benton conservation districts, calls the need for the move “a sad story with a happy ending.”

The district office has been at the ag service center since its inception in 1951, as was done at many other service centers across the country.

“We’ve been tied by the hip to them for forever,” she said. As such, the USDA has helped her office with technical assistance, supplies and equipment and by giving the district office space in their building.

But things changed last year, she said, when the USDA decided to charge rent — $65,000 per year, a sum the district could not afford.

Fortunately, she said, the district had been saving for the previous 20 years and had enough savings for a building, which it has recently started. At a cost of $583,000, the building will be within eyesight of its current location.

It will have 4,000 square feet of space, half of which will be offices for the seven full-time employees. The other half will be a shop, which will serve primarily as storage for teaching supplies.

The completion date is April 1.

She said that the only new service will be a demonstration garden for local plants. This will be an opportunity to teach property owners about native plants and encourage them to build lawns that save water.

Irrigation water management will remain the top priority, said Mark Nielson, district manager.

“In Franklin County, you have some of the highest nitrate levels in groundwater across the state,” he said.

Nielson and his team are trying to reduce the amount of water used to limit nitrates from leeching into the groundwater. The project involves putting monitors in the ground, tracking water use and trying to match water to crop conditions. The goal, he said, is to use only enough water for the crops and prevent it from carrying nitrates deep into the groundwater.

When the district first put irrigation water management into practice, it was met with some skepticism, he said. Some local growers even seemed grumpy about being asked about their practices.

The program, however, has gained support, he said. Producers have learned that they can create savings in water, fertilizer and energy use.

Nielson said that last year the district provided around $50,000 of incentive money for the program, and he now has a glut of people wanting to enroll.

Water project improves efficiency, quality Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:19:34 -0500 Erick Peterson A project 10 years in the making is proving to be a benefit to area landowners and the migratory fish population in Cowiche Creek.

Nearly complete but fully functional, the Cowiche Creek Water Users’ Association Barrier Removal and Trust Water Project has been a blessing, according to Ken Lust, a Yakima, Wash.-area hay farmer who also has a small cattle operation.

This project exchanged creek water rights held by 16 people, including Lust, for new water rights from the nearby Tieton River. Their Cowiche rights were then placed in a state trust for in-stream flow for fish passage.

Lust said the project, initiated by the North Yakima Conservation District, provides him with a constant supply of water.

“It’s a great project,” he said,

He added that the district “has done a good job for us” and that he is glad to have been involved, as it has reduced his workload by unburdening him of much pump and irrigation system maintenance.

Mike Tobin, the district manager, said other landowners and farmers say they are well served by the project and that they have been waiting for it for a long time.

For around 10 years, he said, people have been discussing the Cowiche Creek problem. Fish migration was troubled by two four-foot dams in the creek and totally blocked by dewatered sections of the creek.

The district considered solutions that could have left a large footprint and required expensive engineering work, Tobin said.

But then someone at the district thought to make use of a pressurized pipeline already underground. It made sense, he said, to put outlets on it to serve the area with water from the Tieton River.

As much as it made sense, it could not be done right away. First, Tobin would have to work with local landowners and government agencies to build a consensus.

What could have “taken 10 days ended up taking 10 years,” Tobin said, but the final solution was one that both improved irrigation water quantity and quality and offered a fish recovery benefit. More water running in the creek improves the temperature and allows the steelhead and coho to pass unencumbered.

It also benefits livestock. Working with landowners who have property above the creek, the district installed a buffer, a fenced grazing management system and off-stream watering for cattle.

Several people and agencies should be thanked for their help on the project, Tobin said. A salmon recovery funding grant from the Recreation and Conservation Office helped fund pipeline construction. Further funding came from the Bonneville Power Administration through the Yakima Tributary Access and Habitat Program. And the Washington Water Project of Trout Unlimited was “a big sponsor,” Tobin said. The Yakima-Tieton Irrigation District and the federal Bureau of Reclamation were also helpful.

That, plus the cooperation of landowners, made the project possible, Tobin said.

Utility’s cost-share project reduces dairy’s expenses Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:17:54 -0500 Hear Smith Thomas RICHFIELD, Idaho — Dairyman Robin Lezamiz was closing a headgate on the canal that fed his irrigation system when a deer and her fawn distracted him.

“I came upon a doe and a fawn, and the fawn was newborn — still wobbly. I started following the doe and fawn, walking northeasterly. After 20 minutes they took off, and I turned around to go back and was looking to the southeast, over the top of some poplar trees, 2 miles away,” he said.

“It finally dawned on me that I was looking at our dairy farm, and our roller mill — a 30-foot-tall building with an elevator sticking 40 feet above the building,” he said. “I was looking clear over the top of that. I never realized there was that much fall.”

Lezamiz, who owns the farm in partnership with his sister Lynda, called a contractor who came and took the coordinates and determined there was 173 feet of fall — the change in elevation — in a half-mile.

That discovery, plus financial help from Idaho Power, would help him switch his irrigation system to gravity-fed set-up that saves the dairy 88 percent on its electricity bill each year along with reducing labor and maintenance costs associated with the old canal and pumping stations.

Lezamiz contacted his local Idaho Power agricultural representative to see if the utility would help in a cost-share project.

The Idaho Power incentive program paid 29 percent of the total cost of the project, which was installed in 2010.

The water is now picked up 2 miles north of the dairy, taking advantage of 195 feet of elevation drop from the diversion to the lowest part of the farm.

“It goes into a 27-inch pipeline that takes it down to our farm,” Lezamiz said.

“We originally thought the pipeline would pay for itself in six years but it paid for itself in two,” he said. “Also, our water is coming 3 miles through the pipe instead of the canal, and we save at least 100 inches of water for the canal company, eliminating water loss.”

Idaho Power has irrigation efficiency programs in which farmers and ranchers can upgrade or modify irrigation systems, said Dennis Merrick, the utility’s program support manager.

“It all results in power savings from water savings, with less pumping costs,” he said.

“We have six Idaho Power agricultural field representatives who meet with customers and do free irrigation system audits to determine their efficiencies. These representatives can make recommendations on how to improve water application efficiencies as well as energy savings tips,” Merrick said.

“We do about 1,000 projects each year through this program,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation. The farmer increases water application efficiency, resulting in an increase in crop yield, less disease, better fertilizer application and often labor savings.”

He said the Lezamiz Dairy is a happy customer.

“They have more water now than they ever had, and can irrigate their entire farm. In years past they were always short, from loss along the canal. They are finally receiving their full water right,” Merrick said. They were also able to expand their farm with the increased water availability.

“We had 11 pump stations feeding 11 pivots,” Lezamiz said. The pivots, along with wheel lines and hand lines, irrigate 1,071 acres of crops on the farm. By installing a gravity-pressured buried mainline, they were able to fill in the old canal.

“And it all came about because that doe jumped up — and enticed me to go up on that rock pile and look to the south,” he said.