Mississippi’s Department of Environmental Quality is asking irrigation well permit holders in the Delta to participate in a voluntary metering program to help determine how much water is being pumped for agricultural purposes in the region.
DEQ is calling for 5 percent of the region’s wells to be signed up by June 30 and another 5 percent by the end of 2015. Producers Richie Bibb of Tunica County and Ronnie Aguzzi of Bolivar County discussed the need for the new program at the Delta Ag Expo in Cleveland, Miss.
The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Joint Water Management District, the organization charged with monitoring water use in the Delta, says the water table has been declining. In years past, farmers could pump from depths of 40 to 90 feet with most of the water coming from the alluvial aquifer that underlies the region. Those depths have been increasing.
“Fifty years from now when most of us are not farming, we want water left for our children,” said Bibb. “That’s the crux of it at the end of the day. We’ve got to save water. Meters are not going to save water by themselves – they are nothing but another 9/16ths wrench in the toolbox.”
Bibb noted that most of the irrigation water-saving practices outlined at the Delta Ag Expo involve flow meters, devices that help growers know how to better use tools like PHAUCET (Pipe Hole and Universal Crown Evaluation Tool) or Delta Plastic Pipe Planner to reduce irrigation water use. (Other tools include surge valves, multiple, side inlet application systems and tailwater recovery sytsems.)
Initially, DEQ was asking that meters be placed on 100 percent of the 18,000 permitted wells in the Delta. But a task force made up of representatives of the Mississippi Farm Bureau, the Delta Council, Delta F.A.R.M., Delta Wildlife, the Mississippi Association of Conservation Districts and other conservation groups asked DEQ to consider a voluntary program.
DEQ has said that if the region does not meet a goal of meters on 5 percent of the irrigation wells by June 30, it would consider moving toward a mandatory program requiring 10 percent of the permitted wells be metered.
Bibb said the region may have more water meters installed than previously expected. “There are a lot meters that have been installed, but aren’t signed up yet. We might already have 5 percent or 10 percent with meters on them. We don’t really know.”
Aguzzi said farmers could be looking at a higher number of meters if each county fails to meet the requirement of having 10 percent of its wells metered.
“I asked a neighboring farmer to go through the people he leases from and his own land to see how many meters he would have to put on,” he said. “He has 42 groundwater wells. The 10 percent number for that is five meters. That’s if it’s voluntary.
“If it becomes mandatory, then you have to go to permitted well owners. When you do that, that gives him five different landowners. One of them has one well. One well is one meter. Another has one well; one has three wells; one has 12 wells; and one has four. The point being he has to do five meters if it’s a voluntary program. He has to do nine if it’s a mandatory program.”
In a letter to members, the Mississippi Farm Bureau said some Delta counties have met their voluntary goal of 5 percent while others have not. Coahoma County, for example, is currently listed at 6 percent with 71 meters installed vs. the 59 needed to get it to 5 percent.
“Bolivar County has an estimated goal of 150 meters needed to meet the initial 5 percent goal by June 30,” Farm Bureau officials said. “Sunflower County has an estimated goal of 135 meters needed to meet the initial 5 percent. As of Jan. 15, according to YMD records, Bolivar County has only installed 42 meters countywide. Sunflower County has only 55 meters confirmed to be installed.”
For more information on Delta irrigation issues, click on http://deltafarmpress.com/management/mississippi-producers-need-rebalance-check-books