Irrigation conservation effort a necessary start
There are other options that can be considered for reducing the decline in the aquifer water level. First and foremost is the application of less irrigation water to meet crop needs.
Consider the following:
- If soybean irrigation in the Delta is cut by 1 acre-inch each year, an estimated 75,666 acre-ft. of water will be conserved.
- If soybean irrigation in the Delta is cut by 2 acre-inches each year, an estimated 151,333 acre-ft. of water will be conserved.
- If soybean irrigation in the Delta is cut by 3 acre-inches each year, an estimated 227,000 acre-ft. of water will be conserved. This amount is essentially equal to the average drop in the aquifer over the last 6 years.
What will be the ramifications of cutting irrigation by these amounts? That is hard to say, but there is over 20 years of irrigation research data from Stoneville to indicate that on average no more than 11.5 in. of irrigation water are required to achieve maximum yield when soybeans are planted before May 1.
Also, if plantings are made in the first half of April, it is estimated that on average only about 7.5 in. of irrigation water will be required to achieve maximum yield. Both of these amounts are well below the 13.2 in. of irrigation water estimated to have been applied to soybeans in the Delta in 2010.
So simply managing planting date can minimize the amount of irrigation water needed to irrigate soybeans for maximum yield.
There is another option that may be harder to swallow -- irrigating with limited water. This concept is explained in an article on this site, and in an updated article published by Colorado State University. It may be what is down the road if irrigation and crop management practices for water conservation are not widely adopted or are not successful on a wide scale in the Delta over the next few years.
Several research approaches are needed in the coming years to determine what route to take to reduce the amount of irrigation water applied to soybeans while still maintaining near maximum profitability, and to reduce dependence on water pumped from the alluvial aquifer.
- Determine the yield and economic effects of reducing seasonal irrigation amounts applied to soybeans over the usual irrigation period.
- Determine how and when irrigating with limited water will affect soybean yields and net returns.
- Determine the economic and water savings results from OFWS to offset irrigation water pumped from the Delta aquifer.
- Develop and/or identify new technology that can be used to increase irrigation efficiency.
The MSPB is actively and aggressively promoting and supporting water conservation in the Delta through its recently-initiated SIP 2014 initiative.
Also, the MSPB is supporting recent and continuing research and programs by Drs. Jason Krutz, Joe Massey, Mary Love Tagert, and others that will provide insights and protocol for the adoption of water conservation methods in the Delta. Results from these efforts will be posted on this website as they are produced.
I end this article with this: Identifying and adopting measures that can be used to conserve/reduce the amount of water that is used to irrigate Delta crops may not be the total answer, but it is a good and necessary start. And most certainly it beats the heck out of doing nothing.
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