Some producers achieving water savings of up to 37 percent.

Drought conditions in California have been hard on most farmers and ranchers. But thanks to irrigation improvements, which agricultural producers have implemented with help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), many farmers remain successful despite severe water cutbacks.

A good example is Tehama County rancher Sam Williams, who participated in a Farm Bill project in the Anderson Cottonwood Irrigation District (ACID) in 2010. Williams is using 37 percent less irrigation water, due to improved irrigation water efficiency, and his fields have stayed lush and green despite 25 percent water curtailments in 2014 and again this year. Williams says that he has hardly been affected by the drought.

"It's saving a lot of water," said Williams. "The new system is much more efficient. It used to take me four days to irrigate everything. Now … I can do it in 24 hours.  I had an old concrete pipeline, and I had leaks out the top, and probably the bottom and sides too. There's no telling how much water was lost. I didn't dream we'd improve it this much."

Working with NRCS, Williams was able to install nearly 6,000 linear feet of PVC pipeline to replace old leaky concrete pipes that supplied irrigation water to 130 acres of pasture and a small orchard. Several water structures were also installed to control flow, and NRCS redesigned his system so it works on the natural grade, increasing water pressure.

NRCS Civil Engineer Technician Moises Lozano agrees that Williams is saving a significant amount of water with the improved system. "He would use about 640 acre feet of water per season before the improvements," said Lozano. "Based on the irrigation design and last year's irrigation history, we calculate that he only applied 402 acre feet of water last season. That's a 37 percent water savings—about 78 million gallons of water per year that he was able to save. That's about the same as 118 Olympic-sized swimming pools." 

Water efficiency resulting from Williams' improvements and similar work done by 53 other program participants in Shasta County have helped all of ACID's customers to weather the drought. It has also saved ACID a lot in pumping costs.

ACID General Manager Stan Wangberg said that improvements implemented by customers, as well as improvements carried out by the water district itself, are what made it possible to deliver the water needed by customers despite 25 percent mandatory water cutbacks in 2014 and again in 2015 resulting from the severe drought. 

Between 2010 and 2013, 54 landowners in the ACID service area participated in the local project. Together they installed more than 28,000 feet of pipe and 61 water control structures to improve water efficiency.  That was in addition to 12,000 linear feet of pipe and new laterals that ACID installed as part of its own system improvement plan.

"The work our customers were able to do has really been critical in helping us get through last year, which was our first curtailment in many years and the first one I've experienced with a 25 percent supply curtailment," concluded Wangberg.

The ACID project was funded through the former Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, a 2008 Farm Bill program that was replaced in the 2014 Farm Bill by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP will continue to fund similar conservation projects and priorities in tandem with select partners.

NRCS has provided leadership in a partnership effort to help America's private landowners and managers conserve their soil, water and other natural resources since 1935. For more information on NRCS, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.