Uncertainties about water sustainability in Harney County are causing some ranchers to examine more efficient ways to irrigate alfalfa and hay crops.
Mark Owens went further. Mark is a hay farmer in Crane and one of the county’s three elected commissioners. In 2015, Mark attended a workshop on low elevation spray application (LESA) systems. Half-way through the presentation, Mark got on his cell phone and canceled an order for nozzles that would be used in his mid-elevation spray application (MESA) systems, the standard sprinkler system used in Harney County.
In March 2016, Owens converted 6 pivots to LESA. “It made total sense to me,” he said. “The savings in water and energy the first year were almost 25%. Using LESA, I was achieving almost 92% efficiency against the 75-80% efficiencies of MESA—with no reduction in yield.” For sure, both systems are better than water sprayed from wheel lines, which have about 65% efficiency.
Today, there are 42 more LESA systems in Harney County (48 counting Mark’s).
On May 17, 2017, Mark made a presentation to county ranchers at the ESD facility in Burns, where he compared new and old systems. People then drove out people out to Mark’s ranch for a demo.
LESA systems spray water from nozzles placed 12 inches above the ground or lower and spaced about 5 feet apart. As crops grow, the nozzles become less and less visible because they are under the canopy, further reducing water drift and evaporative loss, percolating water into the ground faster and saturating root zones more effectively. LESA works best on level fields.
Here is Mark’s comparison of MESA and LESA systems. The average water right allocation in Harney County is 3 acre-feet or 325,850 gallons per acre foot or 966,550 gallons per 3 acre-feet. This is typically the amount producers will utilize for optimal growth using MESA systems.
7.5 gallons per minute per acre 5,8-6 gallons per minute
450 gallons per hour per acre 348 gallons per hour per acre
10,800 gallons per day per acre foot 8,352 gallons per day per acre foot
30 days to apply 325, 850 gallons 39 days to apply 325,850 gallons
90 days uses 3 acre feet (97,200 gal) 90 days uses 2.3 acre foot (752,690 gal)
During his presentation, Mark made clear that reaching the high efficiencies of LESA systems depended on designing them to meet crop needs according to the type of soil and climate conditions. “Most importantly, you have to manage the system,” he said. “You have to go out and look at the fields. You can’t manage them from a pickup. It’s easy to over water.” LESA was so efficient, Mark had to shut down the system for five days last summer. “An efficiently designed system can be managed inefficiently,” Mark added.
LESA systems require less operating pressures. Mark reduced his horsepower requirements with a new pump design by eight horsepower, which saved approximately $10 a day in power costs.
If you have further questions about MESA and LESA, please contact Mark Owens.
Harney County Commissioner
Retrofitting MESA to LESA
Harney County irrigation dealers are knowledgeable about conversions and costs. Basically conversion entails doubling the existing drops on the pivot lines, retrofitting them with double goosenecks and the correct types of sprinkler nozzles, and replacing regulators.
Cost and Financial Assistance
According to Mark, ‘If our results stay consistent during the second year, we will be able to recoup our out of pocket expenses within two years.
However, financial assistance is available for producers.
Harney Electric Cooperative customers can receive rebates on irrigation hardware upgrades and irrigation pumping improvements. Harney Electric has contracted with Harney Soil and Water Conservation District to deliver the program. Contact Bill Andersen, Energy Efficiency Analyst Harney SWCD, 541-573-5010, email@example.com
Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative OTCC) has a similar program, but funding is not currently in place. However, producers can fill out the paperwork and have it in place, when funding does become available. Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative 541-573-2666
The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) provides up to 75% of the cost of projects that conserve natural resources and improve watershed health. Individuals are eligible to apply, but are encouraged to work with organizations such as the Harney County Watershed Council or the Harney Soil and Water Conservation District. Contacts: Karen Moon, Harney County Watershed Council 541-573-8199; Karen.moon!oregonstate.edu; or Marty Suter-Goold, Harney SWCD, 541-573-5010; firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition, The National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)—formerly Soil Conservation Service—has other programs to help producers identify ways to conserve energy, programs to help organic farmers selling less than $5000 of organic products per year, as well as for improvements to irrigation efficiency. For information on these and other programs, contact Zola Ryan, District Conservationist NRCS Hines Field Office, 541-573-6446 ext. 107; email@example.com
Attend the June 28 Meeting
The fourth meeting of one the Water Availability sub-group is set for June 28, 2-5 p.m. at the ESD Building, 25 Fairview Loop.
Short presentations include:
2: 15 p.m. Irrigation Technology: Computer Management for Pivots (Matt Nonnenmacher, Clearwater Pump & Irrigation)
3 p.m. Groundwater Rights and Use (Harmony Burright, OWRD)
3:30 Review Water cycle concepts; discussion of social, environmental and economic impacts of adopting different irrigation technologies and other conservation practices?
The meetings are open to the public. Those who have a stake and interest in our water issues are encouraged to attend. Hope to see you there.
Other articles about the future of Harney County’s water.
Note: I am a member of the Harney County Watershed Council; these are my views and do not necessarily refect those of council members.