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Tailwater recovery conserves water

Buddy Tanner is using an innovative approach to save water while he irrigates 850 acres of the 1,850 acres of cotton he farms on his Frogmore Plantation in Ferriday, La.

Tanner and his wife Lynette have installed a tailwater recovery system to help with irrigation on their plantation. This system catches runoff from the fields and returns it to use for irrigation. And the idea is one that LSU AgCenter specialists hope more farmers will adopt to help save the state's diminishing water supply.

“This is the third year we've used this system,” Buddy Tanner said. “Before it was installed, we didn't have any irrigation system, and we had to depend solely on rainfall.

“Four years ago, we had the worst drought we've ever had. I was averaging 400 pounds of cotton per acre when before I was averaging 950 pounds per acre,” Tanner added. “I made less than half a crop that year. After that, I decided if I was going to farm, I had to irrigate.”

The system Tanner uses is comprised of 21,000 feet of 12-inch PVC pipe buried 4 feet underground. Fifteen-inch flexible pipe runs the water through the fields.

He has four 150-foot deep wells that pump 2,000 to 2,500 gallons of water per minute. In addition, Tanner uses water from Little Cross Bayou, which borders the back 240 acres of his crop, as well as water from a 10-acre reservoir he built on his property.

“I also use the reservoir for duck hunting,” Tanner said. “And I can run water from the pond into the bayou when it's low.”

Tanner said of the 1,850 acres that he farms, 850 acres are irrigated — 240 acres from water pumped out of the bayou and 610 acres with water pumped from the wells.

“I've been happy with my irrigation system,” Tanner said. “I used things that were available to me and tried to capitalize on them. It's worked out pretty well.”

While it was Tanner's idea to pump water out of the bayou for his fields, he credits several people with helping him put the system together — including Tim Fruge of Soileau Industries in south Louisiana, Mark Frey of Quad M Investors LLP of Morganza, La., the Costello Brothers of Mer Rouge, La., and Mike Tyson of Monroe, La.

Reusing water by recycling it through a tailwater recovery system is a smart environmental move, said Ralph Bagwell, an assistant specialist of environmental programs with the LSU AgCenter.

“The most obvious reason is that the producer is recovering the runoff for use again,” Bagwell said. “Most of the water used to irrigate a field doesn't saturate into the ground the first time. This system allows the water to be re-used, putting it back on the same field.”

Robert Edling, associate professor with the LSU AgCenter's Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, said that while the cost to install one of these systems can run into the thousands of dollars, depending on how extensive the piping is and the rate and amount of water pumped, it is something producers may consider.

“With all of the water issues being addressed right now, I expect the trend will continue to move towards the use of these types of systems,” Edling said.

Reports given during the LSU AgCenter's Louisiana Water Summit show that using tailwater recovery systems to capture runoff is one of the solutions to questions about an adequate agricultural water supply.

Tailwater recovery is a conservation method that can be combined with on-farm irrigation reservoirs to store surface water, other measures to increase water stored on the land and provide waterfowl habitat, land leveling to improve application efficiencies and irrigation systems such as surface methods, sprinkler and drip irrigation.

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