This post launches KlamBlog’s UNDERSTANDING AGRICULTURE feature. But first, an update on those Klamath Settlement Negotiations which never seem to end ~
¨ KlamBlog readers will remember that in our last post we explained why a Deal with the Klamath Water Users Association (the group which represents the
…. And now, back to launching our new feature ~
For over 30 years KlamBlog’s principle author has been working to figure out what is going on with Agriculture in the
KlamBlog’s UNDERSTANDING AGRICULTURE feature will from time to time use an article from either the trade or the mainstream press to illustrate a point or lessen and thereby (hopefully) help KlamBlog readers understand what is going on in agriculture that impacts the Klamath River Basin. This is the first in that occasional series.
The following article appeared in the December 14th edition of the Capital Press – a West Coast Agriculture weekly newspaper. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, focus on the highlighted paragraph; then see KlamBlog’s commentary below the article.
Irrigators seek more conservation tools
High cost of water, pending drought drive demand
SAN DIEGO - Making the most of expensive and increasingly scarce water supplies is foremost on the minds of Western growers, irrigation vendors report.
Most of the agriculture-orientated irrigation suppliers at this week's 28th annual International Irrigation Show said conservation, along with environmental concerns, are driving sales.
"They're focused on doing a better job of irrigating," said Craig Stafford of Nelson Irrigation Corp. The Walla Walla, Wash.-based company brought tools for nursery and landscape use as well as for production agriculture.
Growers need to save money on two fronts: reducing the energy to move the water and reducing the amount of water applied to their crops, said
How low can application rates go?
"This won't seal the soil and you won't have the run-off or puddling," he said.
Not all irrigation systems will work best on all crops, noted Mark Haile of Weather Tec. He also pointed out that the brass sprinkler heads he was offering were "the last ones made in the USA."
"All the other big outfits are importing from
Devices that tell growers how much water they are applying are also in demand.
"We can't make them fast enough," said Curt Burnett of Seametrics Inc. of
Whichever application method suits the crop, growers still need to determine how much water reaches the roots of the plants and when they need to apply more water, said Chet Townsend of AquaSpy.
Soil moisture-sensing devices are becoming more common in all types of crop production as growers look for ways to reduce total water applications, Townsend said. Using sensors, he said, can allow growers to reduce water consumption by 20 to 70 percent, depending on how they irrigate.
Another input that has steadily risen in price is fertilizer, and Townsend pointed out that since it is frequently applied with water, it might leach below root level, where it is wasted. Growers have used soil probes for many years to check moisture levels, but Townsend said they can now place probes that read moisture levels every several inches.
Using a data logger to track water uptake, growers can see trends and program irrigations to match more closely crop needs. Townsend said that could mean different things for different growing areas. In
"Vineyard owners are also looking at this technology to track moisture levels so they can stress vines to produce higher sugar levels and put color on the grapes," Townsend said.
The cost of installing systems varies greatly with the number of sensors, the type of information required and the type of crop.
"Everyone is interested in moisture sensors this year. They're looking at using less water, really managing their water use," said Dave Porter of Environmental Sensors, Inc.
Porter demonstrated how temperatures trigger their system to put out water or shut down. In the case of frost protection, he said, an alarm mode can alert growers if temperatures drop below a certain level.
"We've tried to make this a simple system, but with more sophisticated measurements than the tensiometer," said Porter. "This is more reliable, and it measures more than just moisture."
Staff writer Cecilia Parsons is based in Ducor. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is being said in this article is that western irrigators can reduce their water use by 20 to 70% if they will simply use existing technology to monitor the actual water needs of their crops.
What is not said in the article is that if western irrigators were to take this simple and affordable step they would not only eliminate most of the conflicts over stream and river flows versus diversion for irrigation but they would also significantly reduce the West’s number one source of water pollution – agriculture return flows.
Check it out; if you are skeptical do some goggle searchers and make some calls. Here’s what you will find:
- In every major river basin in the West irrigation interests control 80% to 90% of the base flow. In our region “base flow” is the dry season flow – the natural streamflow after snowmelt influence wanes which is generally sometime between late June and mid-August.
- Every flow study from the western US that KlamBlog has seen, finds that 40% to 60% of baseflow must remain in-stream to sustain healthy fisheries and a healthy river system.
- Irrigated agriculture could feasibly and without a major impact on crop production reduce its base flow water use sufficiently to allow 50% of base flow to remain is western rivers and streams.
So, if the above three points are true….
….. WHY DON’T WESTERN IRRIGATORS REDUCE THEIR WATER DEMAND AND WITH THAT SIMPLE ACT REDUCE THE LEVEL OF CONFLICT IN THE WEST’S RIVER BASINS?
The answer is that they – those western irrigators who currently control 80% to 90% of our summer water – are playing a different game. Facing the very real prospect that a fully globalized food market will render their operations uneconomical (even if they succeed in retaining crop and other subsidies), western irrigators are looking for a different way to make money going forward.
They think they have found it ! Their plan is to sit back and lease the water they control to those who desire it.
The prospect of cities, environmental groups and even other farmers vying to lease the water ag irrigation interests now control is the future these irrigators long for. And they are banking that the American Public’s soft spot for agriculture will make it possible for them to pull it off.
There is only one problem that could stymie the West’s once and future Water Barons: Articulated just 500 years after the death of Jesus the Christ by the Roman Emperor Justinian, the Public Trust is a legal doctrine which comes down to us today in the substance of English Common Law as recognized and interpreted by American courts. This key legal doctrine stands in the way of water markets not just in the American West but world wide.
“By the law of nature these things are common to mankind---the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea.”
This 1500 plus year old doctrine – which no doubt springs from even farther back in the mists of our common heritage – stands in the way of Western Irrigation Interests. One can understand almost everything that is going on in Western Water as an attempt to weaken and eventually abolish the Public Trust.
The attack is not frontal; as the Mono Lake Case demonstrated, that would be too risky. Instead Western Irrigation Interests and their allies (about whom KlamBlog will comment at another time) are working to kill the Public Trust through a thousand, or actually more like ten thousand, small cuts.
A couple of examples will illustrate:
Example #1: If the irrigators in the
Example #2: If the Klamath Water Users Association gets
Now, lest you think KlamBlog is alarmist, or even crazy, consider this: Within the last year a long-time representative of commercial fishing interests suggested seriously that the Public Trust is obsolete and therefore that environmental and fishing interests should accept the idea of paying irrigators to leave the water fish need to survive in the Klamath River!
It has been argued that people who allow their basic rights to be taken away without a fight do not deserve those rights anyway….We don’t believe that…..do you?