Ferron Irrigation Project
|The pivots are the most efficient type of irrigation system.|
The process of installing an irrigation system in Ferron which makes use of different types of sprinklers is now nearly 75 percent complete.
Roger Barton, chairman of the Soil Conservation District said, "Originally when Millsite Reservoir was completed in 1971 an irrigation project was part of the plan but the landowners were just glad to have Millsite finished and decided to wait on other improvements.
"The Bureau of Reclamation had a salinity program in the late 70s and early 80s and there was a proposal to do an irrigation project in Emery and Carbon counties which fizzled. The bureau said there wasn't much hope for funding for these counties. They have been working in the Uintah Basin on irrigation projects for more than 20 years. The bureau has had a treaty with Mexico to reduce the salt in the Colorado River since 1973. There have been projects all around us, but none in our area.
"When Emery County was making long range plans we approached the irrigation company in Ferron and they expressed interest in the project to preserve water. With the support of the soil conservation district we started looking for projects and funding in 1996. Ferron City contributed $20,000 for the project. We hired an irrigation coordinator to work with the federal government and the locals to develop a plan. We also relied heavily on the NRCS. The first salinity program for the bureau died and the bureau came out with a new salinity program around the same time we finished our proposal. The proposals are based on a cost per ton of salt. We based our proposals on $29 per ton.
"We couldn't install the project without leverage money. The bureau accepted our proposal. The bureau covers all of the cost for the underground pipe. The bureau also helps furnish equipment to install the project. The bureau funds 70 percent of the wheel lines and underground system.The landowner covers 30 percent. The state also has a program which offers low interest loans to help the landowner come up with his share. The installation costs also count towards the farmer's share and they get credit for that and can reduce their costs to 20 percent. Hopefully with the farm bill which just passed it will help spread the money even farther.
"The project began on Oct. 30, 1998 and the total project cost will be $19 million and include 175 miles of pipe when completed. We will save 13,000 acre feet of water per year. If people weren't convinced about the project before the drought, they are now. Everybody is getting excited about the projects because they can see the benefits of it now with two laterals complete. It cleans up the water and the landowner can expect to see increased crop yield because the fields get the exact amount of water they need. In an alfalfa field there is 1-2 ton per acre increase in yield. With flood irrigation you have shorter alfalfa along the edges and the timing of the irrigation is often spaced out too long between waterings. With the sprinklers it is designed that every 11-21 days you start over on the crop and it only gets what it needs. This year with the drought I think we would have been out of water in July if we didn't have the sprinklers. As it was this year with the sprinklers we were able to water through August and into September. Some landowners watered into October.
"The first two laterals are tied to Millsite, but the Molen and KZDF laterals will have regulating ponds feeding the pipelines. Another way we saved money on the project was because we didn't have to spend any funds for easements or right-of-ways, all of the landowners have been very cooperative. In some cases we have had to clear trees and do some cleanup work after the lines go through. It is our hope to extend the irrigation season through Nov. 1 which is the ending time which we never make it to. Any water savings from the project will extend the watering season and will also enable the farmers to irrigate more acreage so there won't be any extra water available. We hope to be able to pull Millsite down so when the runoff comes in the spring we will be able to hang on to more of it.
There was always a lot of interest in Ferron and other communities are coming on board. They are working on a project for Huntington. About a year ago in Huntington they wrote a proposal to do all of Huntington and the proposal was rejected. We have found that the only way you can do it is in pieces. In Ferron we have six laterals. The bureau only has so much money and if you break things up you have a better chance of getting funding. The bureau has three years worth of projects lined out. We are helping all of these areas with their designs and proposals. You can usually get a project designed and then if you receive funding the engineering company will wait to get paid when the funding comes. The project north of Elmo will cover 7,000 acres. In Lawrence right now they are laying pipe. We have been able to negotiate and help get funding, we work with groups to bring funding here to help. There is also a project in Helper, we just don't know how long the money will last.
"We were pricing the pipe in August and learned that the prices go down in November and December so we held off on purchasing the pipe and saved $1 million by waiting. We bought the pipe for the Molen lateral at a big sale.
"We are also installing a pipeline for stock watering in the same hole with the irrigation pipeline. This will save a lot of water, it is buried deeper than the other line so the water won't freeze in the winter.
"The total project when completed will include 8,700 acres. By spring of 2003 we should be finished with Ferron and will move to Rock Canyon and then to Clawson. We've met with the land owners in that area and are getting them signed up and the funding lined up.
"The project doesn't just include the sprinklers but also wildlife habitat, too. Projects for ponds for geese and duck habitat are also being worked on. The mancos shale layer that is responsible for the salt in the soil can be anywhere from 15 inches to15 feet down. When you flood irrigate then the saturated soil brings the salt up. When you irrigate with sprinklers then the water table is lowered. The Ferron project will save approximately 48,000 tons of salt per year from ending up in the Colorado River. They have a desalting plant at Yuma, Ariz. that is very expensive to operate and the bureau thought it was wise to look at irrigation projects upstream to keep the salt out of the water at the source. Senator Bob Bennett was instrumental in helping get the $75 million for the new program. California which uses a lot of water from the Colorado River thought it was a good idea too and contributed $25 million of the initial money the bureau started with. They now have $12 million a year for projects. Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona all compete for that $12 million. Utah projects are usually bid cheaper because they are willing to install the projects themselves and some of the others aren't willing to work on that 30 percent, but want their entire project funded.
"The land owners move the wheel lines and they have gas motors. Some of them are also solar powered. The pivots move by themselves and each tower is controlled by a mechanism at one end and they line up with the one on the end. The pivots can move both ways. They are more expensive but they are great on big fields. I always go out and check my fields and make sure the blinking lights are on which means it's operating and they can also be programmed to call you on your cell phone if there are any problems. This is where the 95 percent efficiency rate comes in. The pivot makes a full circle and the water is really evenly distributed on the field. On the wheel line every 60 feet there is a riser with a three inch hose. The hoses are rubberized. The water pressure is 40 pounds per square inch but some guys are hitting 70 percent and then pressure reducers are installed to keep it in the 40-70 percent range.
"The drought has been good for us in a way because the water table has lowered and we were able to get the pipe installed. We are able to take back meadows now that were always saturated. Some fields are beginning to dry out and farmers will be able to bring them back into production. Irrigation canals leak 30 percent of the water out and cause these wet areas. With the lowering of the water table these wet areas will disappear and the salts will be pushed down. We will also be able to plant a higher quality grass on these areas than the native grasses; these native grasses have little feed value.
"The sprinklers also allow the farmers a bit more freedom than taking their water turns. When you had water coming in the ditch you had to be there to take it. Now you can turn the valve off and leave it for a couple of days. Working on this project has given me a new respect for what our forefathers went through digging these canals. They used a horse and a tree trunk, it was just amazing.
"We have had a local crew installing the project. The bureau said we could save 30 percent by installing it ourselves. We have purchased everything we could for the project locally.
"Flood irrigation is only 30 percent efficient and 70 percent runs off. The pivots are 75 percent efficient and can be up to 90-95 percent efficient. None of the water runs off the field and they only put on the amount of water that the crop needs. It doesn't saturate the ground and eliminates the return flow. We work with the local extension office to determine the correct amount of water for the soil type and the crop. The water from Millsite is clean water with 300 parts per million, but down in the flats the water has risen to four or five thousand parts per million of salt.
"Most of the sprinklers are set to deliver eight gallons a minute. Usually on an alfalfa field they will run for 24 hours. Wheel line sprinklers are stationary and the farmer will move them about 60 feet and then after they run in a spot for the required time they will move them. The valves have meters on them and when the project is complete there will be a job for meter readers because there will be between 150-200 meters which will need to be read every two weeks. They are all set to zero in the spring.
"The canals will all dry up now and will be filled in. The farmers will begin reclaiming and replanting where the irrigation canals used to run and will be able to square up their fields. It will take between three-five years to reclaim some of these fields. This past season was the last year for flood irrigation in Ferron.
"This project has been about protecting soil, saving water, improving water quality and salinity and providing habitat. Everyone has been very cooperative and the Ferron project has been ideal with everyone working together; the bureau, the land owners, the USDA and everyone involved.
"I never dreamed this could happen that I could drive around Ferron and see all of these sprinkling systems in place. But everything just fell into place when we had our proposal ready at the same time the bureau had money for projects. It has just snowballed from then. We had a lot of criticism and people who said that it wouldn't work on our soil. When a new project starts we go through all of the same questions and problems that we have dealt with here in Ferron but that is all part of it; it's hard to change. It's hard to ask a landowner whose farm is paid for to go into debt to get the sprinklers installed.
"If a landowner chooses not to participate they can still flood irrigate, their water will just be delivered to them in the pipeline instead of a ditch. So far though everyone has elected to participate," said Barton.