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Survey demonstrates efficiency in farm water deliveries

A new survey of farm water districts debunks criticism that water is flowing unmeasured to California farms. Improved measurement systems are used on more than 87 percent of the irrigated acreage from surveyed districts, resulting in very efficient management and delivery of farm water.

The survey was conducted by the Agricultural Water Management Council, a non-profit organization that works toward increasing agricultural water management efficiency in California. The survey results represent more than 3 million irrigated acres, or more than one-third of all irrigated acreage in the state.

“These numbers prove that farm water districts have embraced new technology in order to best manage their water supplies and deliveries,” said AWMC Executive Director Mike Wade.

“Efficient Water Management — irrigation district achievements” is a 62-page report available on the Council’s Web site at

“Before automation, many districts were opening and closing delivery gates by hand,” explained Wade. “As a result, more water might have been delivered than ordered by the farmer. It could also result in operational spill or water that could be lost from the system operated by the district.

“Automation has enabled district personnel to remotely monitor and control the settings of gates, valves or pumps from a central location. Now, operational spills are practically non-existent and farmers are getting the amount of water ordered.”

The increase in delivery efficiency is one of several efficiencies documented by the report. Other achievements by farm water districts include:

Almost 90 percent of irrigated acreage represented in the survey utilizes volumetric pricing as a component of the water pricing structure. Volumetric pricing guarantees that farmers are paying for every drop of water delivered to their farms.

More than half of the transportation systems that move farm water are either pipelines or concrete-lined canals. Other transportation systems utilize earthen canals to deliver water and at the same time recharge the groundwater supply.

Almost two-thirds of the irrigated acreage in the responding water districts has an active program to reuse tailwater. Tailwater is water not used by the crop, absorbed into the ground or evaporated and runs off the field. Tailwater is either reused by individual farmers or returned to the district’s supply.

About 70 percent of irrigated acreage serviced by water districts conjunctively use both surface and groundwater supplies. Conjunctive use provides a flexible management tool for farmers to irrigate their crops. Not all areas are able to utilize this practice because of soil conditions.

Almost 90 percent of the acreage in the survey receives water that is measured at the point of delivery from the district’s canal to a farmer’s field.

“The survey also points out that the greatest obstacle to achieving greater agricultural water efficiency is cost,” Wade added. “Responding districts representing 69 percent of the irrigated acreage have developed financial assistance programs for farmers. Many of these programs are grants or low-interest loans for farmers to upgrade irrigation systems, install drainage-reducing tailwater return systems or other infrastructure improvements that reduce water demand or irrecoverable losses.”

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