Well permits expand options for conservation practices

The Mississippi Environmental Quality Permit Board has approved new language for the general permit that allows farmers in the Mississippi Delta and other parts of the state to pump water for irrigation, catfish ponds and wildlife habitat.

The new well permit, which went into effect Oct. 1, will allow producers to continue to pump the same amount of water for crops, aquaculture uses and wildlife habitat they’ve been using but will require them to perform three water conserving practices rather than two.

“The acre allotments haven’t changed, everyone can still use the same amount of water,” said Trey Cooke, executive director of Delta Wildlife. “The conservation measures, the special terms and conditions, have changed. For row crop production, it’s a longer list. They’re asking you to to do three of 11 practices, unless you pivot irrigate.”

The approval of the new general permit follows a nearly two-year process in which the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the Permit Board and the Governor’s Delta Sustainable Water Resources Task Force worked on the new general permit language.

The process included a number of meetings and public hearings held across the Delta in 2014, 2015 and 2016 to get input on the permit language. Numerous organizations submitted comments.

Maximum sustainable benefit

State law mandates that MDEQ, the Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality and the Mississippi Environmental Quality Permit Board “ensure the maximum sustainable beneficial use of the waters of the state while conserving and preventing the unreasonable use or waste of those waters.”

Cooke listed the changes in the permit language during a meeting of the Delta Council’s Aquaculture Committee, which is made up of catfish producers and other members of the catfish industry in Mississippi.

The terms and conditions for the fish culture category in the general permit did not change, “but I know some of you also grow row crops,” said Cooke, who serves as executive director of Delta Wildlife.

The new general permit adds two conserving practices to the list of measures that are available for producers who furrow or flood irrigate: 1) precision land forming and/or perimeter pads and pipes and 2) irrigation scheduling, using either of the following: soil moisture sensor data or a water-level indicating device for rice fields.

Conservation practices

The other practices that can be performed by producers to qualify for permits:

  • Employing computerized hole-selection software, such as Pipe Planner, to supply irrigation water for the permitted acreage.
  • Surge valves.
  • A tail-water recovery system to supply at least 25 percent of the irrigation water for the permitted acreage.
  • Surface water from a permitted surface water intake to supply at least 75 percent of the irrigation water for the permitted acreage.
  • Zero grade or modified zero grade land-forming for rice.
  • Alternate wetting and drying for rice.
  • Side inlet water distribution.
  • A timer or automatic shut-off that can remotely or automatically shut off wells.
  • A fixed meter and report of annual metered water use to MDEQ by Feb. 1 of each year.

Growers must adopt three of the 11 practices unless they are using sprinkler irrigation systems, such as a center pivot, which do not require them to implement acceptable agricultural water efficiency practices.

For fish culture producers must implement one of the following practices:

A water-level indicating device or pond-drain design that allows for significant rainfall capture during the growing season.

A fixed meter and report annual metered water use to MDEQ by Feb. 1 of each year.

For wildlife management, the permit holder must implement one of the following:

A water control structure, such as a slotted board riser, that captures rainfall and runoff to the greatest extent practical. MDEQ recommends the structure be closed by Nov. 1 or as soon after harvest as possible.

A fixed meter and report annual metered water use to MDEQ by Feb. 1 of each year.

Water limit the same

As Cooke indicated the volume of water that may be withdrawn and applied per acre irrigated remains the same as under the 2011 general permit.

Up to 1.5 acre-feet per acre per year may be applied to row crops and up to 3.0 acre-feet per year may be applied to rice. Up to 5.0 acre-feet per year may be used for all types of aquaculture except fingerlings and up to 7.0 acre-feet per year for raising fingerlings.

Producers will now have three years from the issuance date of coverage under the new general permit to submit documentation to MDEQ’s Office of Land and Water Resources that the required minimum level of MDEQ’s Acceptable Agricultural Water Efficiency Practices have been met.

Cooke said the Delta Sustainable Water Resources Task Force is seeing tangible evidence the permit requirements are having an impact on agricultural water efficiency.

The MDEQ notes that USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has provided financial assistance for growers to construct almost 180 tail-water recovery and on-farm storage systems in the Delta region.

For more on water management in the Mississippi Delta, visit http://www.ymd.org/.

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