The Future of Harney County’s Water: ConservationTakes Front and Center


About 40 people attended a Harney County Community-planning water meeting on June 28. Two informational talks were presented: one on remote pivot controls and magnetic flow meters; the second on some of the knowns and unknowns about water availability and use in the Harney basin. These augmented presentations on May 17 comparing different sprinkler irrigation systems.

Afterwards the meeting broke up into small discussion groups to discuss the implications of Harney County farmers adopting water saving irrigation conservation technologies.


An alfalfa field in Harney County .The vibrant side was irrigated with about 2/3 of the water using drip lines. Each drip line is around 50’ long with small holes punched about every six inches. Water penetration in the soil was dramatically better. The other side remains unchanged MESA sprinkler irrigation with evaporation, etc. Drip lines are a third alternative to conserving water with more efficient technologies that lead to higher yields. Photo used with permission.

Math Jui Jitsu

Mark Owens was the first hay farmer in Harney County to convert 6 pivots to low elevation spray application (LESA) systems.

During this meeting, he presented a calculation of the savings that could occur if all pivot irrigation systems currently in use in Harney County converted to LESA.

According to Harmony Burright from the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD), the department has approved 610 permits for Harney County farmers for developing a total of 93,936 acres (281,808 acre-feet) of groundwater. However, farmers are only irrigating 64,000 acres (192,000 acre-fee), which means that some permits have not been developed.

Owens calculated that the average water savings for converting MESA to LESA systems was approximately 20%. Since 80% of the irrigation systems in Harney County are from sprinkler pivots, at 100% conversion, the savings would be at least 16%, or a savings of 45,000 acre feet—(15,000 acres).

A worthy goal.

The question is whether some or all of these savings can be achieved?

Incentives and barriers to conservation will be discussed in the fifth Future of Water article.

Remote Pivot Controls

Presenters were Josh Egan from the Lindsay Corporation, the manufacturer of FieldNET™ Pivot Control systems, and Matt Nonnenmacher from Clearwater Pump and Irrigation from Burns, Oregon, a company that installs them.

FieldNET™ Pivot Controls are mounted on irrigation pivots, whatever their type, and enable pivots to be remotely controlled from a smart phone or computer. The simplest versions provide on-off capabilities and check equipment status. More sophisticated versions provide GPS positioning, variable rate irrigation controls within many designated sectors within fields, and can be programmed for real-time field conditions, such as pressure, soil moisture, and weather, and to designate irrigation zones that may need different flow rates or even none at all.


The purpose of pivot controls is to manage how much water is going into the ground and to alert field managers to potential problems, such as high water flow, hardware faults, low pressure, high voltage, etc. and decrease the need for daily visual inspection of crops.

Use of pivot controls reduce labor cost and improve efficiency and yield, which can lead to greater profits.

Magnetic Flow Meters

Growsmart™ magnetic flow meters are mounted at well sources. Used as stand-alone or combined with remote pivot controls, these meters calculate how much water is flowing through the pipe. Knowing how much fields are under or overwatered can be critical during periods of drought or scarcity; and are useful for managing yield and efficiency.

Information is sent to a smartphone or computer. Meters can be interfaced with pivot controls for more effective management.

For further information on FieldNET pivot controls or Growsmart magnetic flow meters contact Matt, at Clearwater Pump & Irrigation, Phone: (541) 573-1260

Future Groundwater Meetings:

Groundwater issues are being addressed in two separate meetings scheduled on July 18 and 19. Everyone who is interested in the future of water in Harney County is welcome and encouraged to attend.

First, The Harney County Groundwater Study Advisory Committee is meeting at the Harney County Community Center on Tuesday, July 18 from 10 a. m to 3 p.m. The meeting will include a presentation from USGS summarizing existing studies, data, and information and how they are being for a major groundwater study being conducted in the Harney Basin by USGS and OWRD. Later there will be an update on current quarterly groundwater measurements and monitoring efforts .The greater part of lunch and the afternoon will be devoted to discussions among people attending, including a discussion on water use estimates and data gaps.

Groundwater study area Chris copy.jpg

On Wednesday, July 19. a Community Based Planning meeting was held at the Harney County Community Center from 5:00-8:00 p.m. Allison Aldous of the Nature Consevancy shows an updated conceptual model conceptual model to aid in the understanding of how water flows into the basin affect groundwater and surface water. The discussion followed by how changes in management strategy, such as conservation, could affect agricultural and other uses.

The need for local, collaborative water planning was identified in the statewide Integrated Water Resources Strategy and is being supported by a grant from the Oregon Water Resources Department.

For more information, contact Project Manager, Gretchen Bates: or 541-589-9915

More information is located at Other “Future of Water” articles are located at links provided in the HW watershed council section: Community-Based Water Planning.