Starting Small—Thinking Big
An irrigation district is area that works to gather, manage and distribute water for the irrigation of lands within its boundaries. Most irrigation districts today get their water through systems that are 150 to more than 200 years old. Modernizing these districts is one of the single greatest opportunities to create agricultural security, drought resilience and broad conservation improvements.
Through the Irrigation Modernization program, the Farmers Conservation Alliance (FCA) will work in partnership with districts and their stakeholders over the next decade to help modernize the regions—but that’s just the first step. The long-term goal of this project is to develop a system of strategies, and a network of support, that will help to facilitate irrigation modernization throughout Oregon, and across the U.S.
Agriculture consumes an estimated 70- to 80-percent of fresh water. Factors like the growing population, persistent droughts, declining fish numbers, and these aging irrigation infrastructure, add stress to our water resources and agricultural industry. Modernized irrigation systems are a win-win proposition for farms, fish, environments and economies.
Partnering For The Future
The purpose of the Irrigation Modernization program is to improve irrigation efficiency, create a more resilient agricultural system, increase rural economic development and improve environmental stewardship. Over the next ten years, the program will document modernization work currently being done and take note of additional opportunities to support and accelerate those efforts, to gain a greater understanding of the current state and opportunities for improvement in the districts.
Partnerships will also be created with irrigation districts and consulting companies to develop tailored modernization strategies and build a team of irrigation district managers and experts to guide and advise large-scale and individual modernization processes.
FCA has already begun working with irrigators and their partners—focusing on communities in central and eastern Oregon, and expecting to partner with additional districts throughout the state over the next year. The team is working to document previous modernization efforts, align environmental, agricultural and political leaders, and create budget and community plans to make sure irrigators are supported in their modernization efforts. They are also implementing a large-scale communication strategy, to increase awareness of the benefits that modern irrigation districts provide.
A Model Of Success
During the initial two years of Irrigation Modernization assessment, FCA will develop a standard method, to help reduce the overall cost of the effort going forward while ensuring high-quality standards and consistent results. In addition, by creating relationships with individuals and organizations, the Irrigation Modernization program will develop program efficiencies like identifying new channels for project funding, reducing program costs, and raising awareness of the benefits of modern irrigation infrastructure throughout the west.
Keeping Things Green
The results of this program over the next decade—and hopefully for many decades to come—will include billions of gallons of water saved annually, miles of streams opened for safe fish passage, countless megawatts of green, renewable energy generated and conserved, millions of dollars in operation and maintenance costs saved, and millions more invested into rural economies in the region.