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Volume 2 Issue 9 October 2011 Long-term Planning Key Ingredient to Successful Irrigation District Management

Successful irrigation district managers are, by necessity, successful planners. The theme of this issue of Irrigation Leader is long-term planning and how various districts, states, and laws use and promote a forward-thinking outlook to irrigation system management. This issue’s lead interview with Bryant Startin, general manager of Wyoming’s Shoshone Irrigation District (SID), is a prime example of the beneficial impact of longterm planning. SID realized long ago that irrigation system improvements must be conducted regularly in to avoid major aging infrastructure concerns while keeping farmers’ water assessments low. Dependence on state and federal funding can leave districts without recourse when budgets are tightened, and self-reliance ensures long-term results. For example, SID has been able to conduct annual piping projects without significant increases in annual assessments by supplementing its revenue with hydropower production.

Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) writes in this issue about his proposed legislation that would pave the way for irrigation districts throughout the West to follow SID’s lead and supplement their revenue with low-head hydropower generation capability. Tipton’s bill would lower regulatory barriers for small hydropower construction on federally owned facilities, and is a complement to previous legislation authored by Congressman Adrian Smith (R-NE) to help operators of transferred works and other private projects.

Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Kira Finkler highlights the efforts of her agency to support districts as federal budget cycles become increasingly difficult to manage. Similarly, two articles about historical and current efforts in Texas highlight the benefits of state support for water infrastructure. A recent Nebraska court decision highlighted by Don Blanlenau’s water law column also demonstrates the power of localized efforts to raise revenue for the benefit of regional irrigation practices.

Some areas are already thinking outside the box. For decades, Western Kansas groundwater districts and counties have supported a weather modification program that is used to reduce the size of crop-damaging hail. Water managers in the region know that there is no bigger waste of water than irrigating a crop for an entire season, only to see it destroyed by a violent hailstorm. A new program in Wauneta, Nebraska, aims to mitigate the water sapping effects of invasive plant species using goat grazing Long-term Planning Key Ingredient to Successful Irrigation District Management as a deterrent to invasive growth. Water managers with concerns over burning and herbicide use may benefit from this innovative approach.

This issue’s district focus articles highlight two districts that are also working to manage water resources with a long-term outlook. New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is responsible for an irrigation system that traces its roots before the arrival of the Spanish in 1540. The district is working to modernize its infrastructure to ensure its historical system is prepared for future generations of area irrigators. Idaho’s North Side Canal Company is working to explore the potential of low-head hydropower to supplement its revenues in an effort to modernize infrastructure. The district built its first hydropower capability in 1988 and knows the additional revenue it can provide will aid its continued efforts to modernize.

Commercial entities are also working to ensure the long-term operation of irrigation infrastructure. Diamond Plastics Corporation CEO John Britton highlights the durability advantages of PVC pipe and its continued role in the upgrade of irrigation systems built decades ago. Additionally, a family company based in Nebraska has developed RAAFT Tracks, a product affixed to irrigation pivots that prevents them from creating ruts in the soil. Pivots remain an important tool to on-farm water conservation, but they quickly lose their glamour if they get stuck. My last trip home to Nebraska involved helping my father and brother get two pivots out of the mud. Our family was the first to try the RAAFT Tracks in Chase County. They work exceptionally well, which is why they are featured in this issue. In addition to improving my trips home, RAAFT Tracks can help many people save a lot of time, water, and expense.

Long-term, innovative thinking will ensure the continued operation of irrigation systems in the West for future generations. I hope this issue of Irrigation Leader will help to stimulate further conversation about this important and ongoing component of irrigation district management.

Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at Kris.Polly@waterstrategies.com.