Repeat of water woes
March 2, 2015
The Truckee-Carson Irrigation District will announce a record low annual water allocation tomorrow at its monthly board of directors meeting.
The bad news is not unexpected, given the warm winter so far, and many Fallon farmers have already heard the worst: the allocation will likely be between 10 to 15 percent of normal.
"That's not a bad estimate. We are in a very, very dry period," said Rusty Jardine, district manager and general counsel for the TCID.
The previous allocation low was 28 percent; last year it was 45 percent. The allocation can be revised and often is, but only if significant amount of precipitation changes the forecast.
"We can only hope for what I call a miracle March," said Jardine. "But it would have been better if that had followed a fabulous February."
What it means is farmers will receive just 10 to 15 percent of their usual amount of water, which is normally 4.5 acre feet per acre for benchland or 3.5 acre feet of water per acre for bottomland.
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The drought news is no better throughout the state.
The Nevada Division of Water Resources this week is beginning its annual measurement of groundwater in irrigation and stock wells in various basins in the state.
"We'll concentrate on basins with agriculture, primarily in northern Nevada," said Susan Joseph-Taylor, the division's deputy administrator. "I don't know if any orders will come out of it."
The division already issued an order last month requiring a 50 percent mandatory reduction of groundwater pumping for the 2015 irrigation season in the Smith Valley and Mason Valley basins.
The division said there's a threat of basin-wide well failures of shallow wells if no action is taken.
For farmers in Pershing County, the reality is even worse.
"The area around Lovelock is going to have no water," said Jay Davison, Churchill County Specialist, Alternative Crops and Forage, University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension.
"Unless there is a miracle, there will be no irrigation there."
Davison said farmers there with crop insurance are assured some income.
But the earlier the insurance was purchased the better, said Davison, since the formula averages income over a period of time.
Lower crop yields in recent years will bring down the payout calculation.
For farmers with water, Davison said research suggests it's better to irrigate crops fully over a shorter period of time than to irrigate less all summer.
"Rather than stretch water over an entire season, you should water fully then stop," he said. "Say there are usually eight irrigations. You're better off to irrigate fully with four irrigations, rather than stretch them out. It has less effect on yields."
For the long-term, alternative irrigation methods both old and new are being considered.
Davison said there is renewed interest in subsurface drips and low-energy spray applications, both being tested by two farmers in Diamond Valley, with the help of Cooperative Extension.
Irrigo USA, a local start-up which won both the Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition and D.W. Reynolds Governor's Cup last year, helping to raise $90,000, is developing technology to reduce water usage for flood irrigation by 15 to 20 percent, said Brian Blair, business operations at the company.
The company has developed a prototype system to automate and control flood irrigation gates, which are normally operated manually.
The nearly year-old start-up is conducting a test this season on 100 acres of Norm Frey's farm in Fallon.
The experiment will split an alfalfa field in half, with Irrigo technology installed on one side and conventional gates on the other, and sensors placed throughout to collect data to make a comparison.
Irrigo's goal is to have a commercial product by year end, but the record low water allocation won't let the company experiment as much as it would like.
"It won't last past June, but will give us some data," said Blair. "We would have liked a full season."