Mississippi Delta closing in on 10 percent voluntary metering goal

Farmers in three Mississippi Delta counties need to install two more flow meters in each to help complete a nearly two-year effort to establish a voluntary pump monitoring program for the region’s irrigation wells.

Growers in the three – Humphreys, Panola and Tunica – have until Dec. 30 to place the meters that are needed to meet the goal of having 10 percent of the irrigation wells in the 19 Delta and part-Delta counties equipped with the devices.

For Kay Whittington, director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Land and Water Resources in Jackson, and other members of the Delta Sustainable Resources Task Force installing the last six meters on irrigation wells in each of the counties will be a major milestone.

“Over 1,800 meters have been installed throughout the Delta, which is great progress and something a lot of people did not think could happen a few years ago,” said Whittington, who was interviewed following a presentation at the Delta Irrigation Summit on Tuesday, Dec. 15.

“We have two weeks left to beat the final deadline on the installation, and I’m very encouraged,” she said. “It’s not something DEQ can take credit for – it’s been those in the Delta showing they can voluntarily address this problem and help us get better information so we can make the best decisions for solutions in the Delta.”

Under the voluntary program set up by the Delta Sustainable Water Resources Task Force, farmers were asked to install meters on 5 percent of the irrigation wells in each Delta county by June 30, 2014. A second goal of having 10 percent of the wells equipped with flow meters was set for Dec. 30. The alternative: Mandatory reporting of consumption.

Secondary reporting goal

The initial 5-percent goal was met, and growers reached a secondary goal of reporting the information from those meters last Feb. 1. Producers have a deadline of Feb. 1, 2016 for reporting information from the 1,820 meters that will have been installed by Dec. 30, if all goes well.

Whittington said the flow meters “will make it possible for the task force to determine how much water is being pumped, and how that pumpage varies throughout the Delta,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to get this information at the resolution that this program has provided.”

More than 150 farmers and industry leaders attended the Delta Irrigation Summit, which was held at the Capps Center at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., to learn more about conserving water.

Although the region receives annual rainfall of more than 50 inches per year, the moisture doesn’t always arrive when the crops need it. As a result, farmers have filed requests for permits for 19,410 irrigation wells, which could pump nearly 6 million acre feet of water annually in the Delta region. That’s compared to 2,823 permits for 928,000 acre feet in 1987.

Almost all of those wells tap into the alluvial aquifer underlying the Delta region. Most studies show water is being withdrawn from the aquifer faster than it is being replenished, a development that is not sustainable over time.

Water conservation measures

The Delta Irrigation Summit, which was organized by the Delta Sustainable Water Resources Task Force, included a number of presentations on methods for conserving water and the current status of water use from the alluvial aquifer.

“Having a meter is a critical part of being able to do a lot of the irrigation efficiency practices that NRCS recommends and pay for financial assistance on,” Whittington said. “They will pay partially for the actual meter to be installed.

“That’s in addition to helping us get better information for some tools we’re developing, such as a groundwater model that needs this information geographically distributed throughout the Delta, based on soil type, crop type and precipitation changes.”

Growers participating in the voluntary program will be asked to continue to supply the information from the meters for the next several years.

“We will need that information on Feb. 1 of each year from now on to be able to look at long-term trends, and help maintain that awareness of water use at the local level, as well as the regional level, to help continue to improve our science in looking at solutions for maintaining an adequate supply of irrigation water.”

Besides the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, members of the Delta Sustainable Water Resources Task Force include the Mississippi Association of Conservation Districts, Delta F.AR.M. (Farmers Advocating Resource Management), the Yazoo-Mississippi Water Management District, Mississippi Farm Bureau, Delta Council, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

For more information on MDEQ and the water laws in Mississippi, visit www.mdeq.ms.gov.

TAGS: Legislative
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