10 CapitalPress.com Grant partners seek to help flood irrigation projects receive funding By JOHN O’CONNELL Capital Press IDAHO FALLS — Partners who received a $5.18 million USDA grant to benefit the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer say they want to make cer- tain a chunk of their funding goes toward projects that retain flood irri- gation. The Idaho Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer Stabilization Proj- ect was one of three Idaho efforts USDA’s Natural Resources Conser- vation Service supported with Re- gional Conservation Partnership Pro- gram funds in late 2016. The Idaho Department of Wa- ter Resources, Idaho Ground Water Appropriators Inc., the Idaho De- partment of Fish and Game, the Na- ture Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and Wood River Land Trust have all agreed to contribute funding or in-kind matches in support of grant projects. IGWA Executive Director Lynn Tominaga said grant partners hosted a planning meeting in late November. The programs will roll out next May. Tominaga said the partners have asked NRCS to establish separate funding pools for individual practices so that similar applications compete against one another and a diversity of projects are ultimately approved. Idaho Department of Fish and Game White-faced ibises feed in flood-irrigated pasture in the Mud Lake area of southeast Idaho. Recipients of a grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conser- vation Service have asked to establish a separate funding pool for projects from applicants for their funding seeking help with upgrades to retain flood irrigation, for wildlife and aquifer benefits. Tominaga said the partners would like $1 million to be set aside for sharing costs of infrastructure up- grades with irrigators who keep flood irrigation in place, thereby allowing surface water to seep into the aqui- fer and providing marshy habitat for wildlife. Another $1 million would help irrigators who use groundwa- ter switch to alternate surface water sources, and $2.5 million would go toward removing pivot end-guns and planting the dried field corners in vegetation benefiting wildlife. Re- maining funds would support addi- tional water conservation efforts — such as fallowing fields. Tominaga said all of the practices provide ways to help IGWA members meet mandatory groundwater irriga- tion cutbacks required under a 2015 water call settlement with the Sur- face Water Coalition. Collectively, irrigators must reduce their ground- water use by 240,000 acre-feet per year, which averages to about a 12 percent reduction per user. Tominaga said flood irrigation has been replaced throughout much of the plain by more efficient sprinkler irrigation throughout the years, but it remains a common practice in the Mud Lake area and surrounding the Upper Snake River. “We want to see the practices of incidental recharge from flood irriga- tion kept in place because that helps build the aquifer,” Tominaga said. “It will help the wildlife habitat at the same time.” Sal Palazzolo, IDFG farm bill coordinator, said retention of flood irrigation was included as a practice in a previous NRCS grant. Though several flood irrigators applied, none of their projects were funded because the scoring system gave preference to end-gun removal. Establishing funding pools should ensure that the partners get “a really good start” on retaining flood irrigation. “If 10 people apply for flood ir- rigation, they should be competing against each other,” Palazzolo said, adding funding can be shifted to oth- er pools if there are an insufficient number of applications. 49-3/102 December 8, 2017 Promising irrigation method succeeds in spuds By JOHN O’CONNELL Capital Press KIMBERLY, Idaho — A University of Idaho researcher says a water-efficient irrigation method he helped devise was effective in potatoes during 2017 trials and is poised for significant expansion in the coming season. UI Extension irrigation spe- cialist Howard Neibling and his Washington State Univer- sity counterpart, Troy Peters, worked in conjunction with the Bonneville Power Administra- tion to develop the first pivot using low-elevation sprinkler application in 2013. Called LESA, the system sprays water in a flat pattern from low-pressure nozzles dangling about a foot above the ground — low enough to pass beneath the crop canopy and eliminate drift without exces- sive runoff. Their prototype system, tested in Nevada, included a single pivot span fitted with LESA hoses. They tested an- other LESA pivot span the following summer in an Arco, Idaho, grain field, finding it delivered roughly double the water to the soil on especially hot and windy days, compared to the conventional spans. The technology has rapidly spread since then, with sev- eral farmers in Eastern Idaho using it to meet groundwater consumption reductions man- dated under a recent water call settlement. During the summer, Neib- ling worked with two potato farmers on the Rexburg Bench and one in Osgood who agreed to convert a single pivot span irrigating potatoes to LESA. “The objective was to make sure we could make it work in potatoes, and if there were problems, figure out what they were and if we could solve them,” Neibling said. Through his trials, Neibling discovered LESA spans should be 3 feet apart in potatoes for full coverage, compared to 5 feet apart for rotational crops. In fields with small hills, he said dragging nozzles some- times dug into the soil and ex- posed tubers, causing a small volume to turn green. But Neibling’s worries that nozzles would become entan- gled with potato vines didn’t come to fruition. Furthermore, one of the spud growers made changes in configuring towers that significantly reduced the depth of pivot wheel tracks compared to his conventional pivots — something Neibling plans to study more. Neibling said the potato tri- als demonstrated spud grow- ers can reduce irrigation by at least 10 percent under LESA without hurting yield or quali- ty. One of the growers plans to upgrade to a full LESA pivot in his potato rotation next sea- son, and the other two plan to continue evaluating a single span. Neibling still advises po- tato growers to use zip-ties to raise LESA hoses above their spud canopy, thereby prevent- ing dragging nozzles from ex- posing tubers, or from spread- ing pathogens. Next summer, Neibling plans to study how much of the usual LESA water savings growers might sacrifice by raising hoses just above crop canopies. Growers in Rupert and the Idaho Falls area installed more than 20 full LESA pivots last winter for use during the sum- mer, with funding assistance from USDA’s Natural Re- sources Conservation Service. Josh Miller, district con- servationist with the NRCS field office in Idaho Falls, said about 15 growers within his area alone submitted LESA funding applications for next season, before an Oct. 13 deadline. Miller said it costs $5,000 to $7,000 to retrofit a pivot to LESA, but buying a new pivot already configured LESA costs about $2,000 ex- tra.