Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, December 08, 2017, Page 10, Image 10

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Grant partners seek to help flood
irrigation projects receive funding
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-
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
IGWA Executive Director Lynn
Tominaga said grant partners hosted
a planning meeting in late November.
The programs will roll out next
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.
December 8, 2017
in spuds
Capital Press
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
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
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
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-