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Using water wisely

Study finds irrigation is decreasing in the Basin

by Jill Aho, Herald and News 1/14/10

H&N file photo - A ranch in the Langell Valley. A 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey showed that while nationwide, farmers and ranchers irrigated more land than they did five years ago, irrigation in the Klamath Basin has decreased.

Nationwide, farmers and ranchers irrigated more cropland in 2008 than they did five years ago, but in the Klamath Basin, the amount of irrigated land decreased.

Those are the findings of a recently released 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The study found nationally that an additional 400,000 acres of cropland was irrigated between surveys in 2003 and 2008. But the increase didn’t happen in Klamath and Lake counties.

Decrease in acreage

About 15,800 fewer acres were irrigated in Klamath County compared with 2002, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture. Of 226,343 irrigated acres, 116,970 were harvested for crops and 109,373 acres was pasture. The acreage of irrigated cropland decreased from 2002 to 2007, while the acreage of irrigated pastureland increased by 12 percent.

In Lake County, irrigated acreage decreased by 20 percent, with the largest decrease coming from harvested cropland. Cropland irrigation dropped by 21,579 acres from 2002 to 2007 with irrigated pastureland increasing just 3,300 acres.

The decline in irrigated acres may be due to the high cost of power, said TJ Woodley, district manager of the Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District.

“You’ve also seen a decrease in irrigated acreage reported due to some programs like the water bank,” he said.

The water bank

The water bank made payments to landowners in exchange for not irrigating, Woodley said. “Also in Klamath County, there’s been a reduction of irrigation on some pasture that has a high enough water table to support pasture without irrigation.”

“Water is the most critical, limited resource for our nation’s farmers and ranchers,” said Molly Jahn, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, in a press release.

Water supplying the increased irrigated acreage nationwide came mostly from groundwater and on-farm water sources. The number of irrigated acres supplied with off-farm water decreased 6 percent.

Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Kevin Moore said the federal agency supplies grant funding to the Water Conservation Field Services Program that assists irrigation districts serving the Klamath Project with efficiency upgrades. So far, more than 30 miles of irrigation pipe has been supplied to local districts, Moore said.

“The wise use of water is critically important now and will be for future generations,” he said.

Survey: Irrigation methods changing

The 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found irrigation methods are changing, with sprinkler systems becoming the preferred method of water application.

TJ Woodley, district manager of the Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District, said the district most often helps landowners make the move from flood irrigation to sprinkler irrigation or from wheel lines to more efficient sprinklers.

“There are several motivations,” Woodley said. “One is for more efficient application of water, which has the environmental benefit of using less water but also improves irrigation uniformity, which can increase crop yields. More efficient use of water is also associated with reduced power costs.”

Woodley’s organization helps landowners identify funding for irrigation efficiency projects, with the most efficient means of water delivery being the pivot and linear systems.

“But if properly managed and used, any method of irrigation can be efficient in this area,” he said.

Sprinkler system use increased 15 percent nationally in that five-year period. Flood irrigation continued to decline.
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