WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2015 - A group of northwest Texas farmers is working to do more with less with water from the Ogallala Aquifer and hopeful that their efforts - through the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation - will slow the draw from the 225,000 square-mile underground water body.
According to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the current use of groundwater from the aquifer is “unsustainable;” withdrawals exceed the natural recharge of the aquifer, which provides groundwater to parts of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. For Texas agriculture, that’s a problem due to the high number of irrigated acres in the part of the state that draws from the Ogallala.
“We don’t have any more water, so I think it’s more important for us to make every drop count of the water that we do have, and the technology is going to improve,” said Glenn Schur, who farms “a little bit of everything” near Plainview, Texas. Schur is one of the 22 farmers involved in the project.
As part of the project, producers keep meticulous records about things ranging from water use and soil moisture to crop productivity and return on investment. Rick Kellison, project director with TAWC, said the initiative currently covers more than 7,000 acres across 31 sites in nine counties.
“The goal of the project is to help producers determine ways that they can use less water and still be economically viable,” he said. “Where water is our primary limiting factor every year as far as our ability to make a crop, that’s a pretty significant undertaking.”
Eddie Teeter, who’s been farming in the area for 50 years, said his participation involves two sites, one on center-pivot irrigation and the other using drip irrigation. He said he can’t put a finger on the exact amount of water he’s saved after switching from row water irrigation, but he knows that “what water I’ve use has been more efficient.”
The switch to drip irrigation and center pivot irrigation allows for more targeted water use, therefore requiring less than what was once necessary under more traditional row water or flood irrigation techniques. Under those methods, water was dispersed in greater quantities, usually in the rows between plants or flooded across the field.
According to Kellison, the project was originally an eight-year program authorized by the Texas legislature and it recently received another round of funding. Results demonstrated in the first round included 569 acre-feet of water conserved across all sites from 2006-2012. An acre foot is the volume of water that would cover an acre of ground with a foot of water.
NRCS also has an initiative to ease the burden on the Ogallala, but its focus is on the entire aquifer rather than focused on Texas. Part of that plan involves a goal of improving efficiency on 20 percent of the 3.7 million acres of irrigated farmland fed by the aquifer.
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