Drip Irrigation Project Yields Water Savings

New irrigation mainline being laid along field.

New irrigation mainline before being buried underground.

A recently completed conservation project with local nursery producer J. Frank Schmidt and Son Co. is a water savings success! The drip irrigation project involved the installation of drip tape on 68 acres for in-ground seedling ornamental trees at the nursery, which will greatly reduce the amount of irrigation water used.

The previous nursery irrigation system consisted of buried underground mainline with impact sprinklers, with the occasional use of a big gun traveling sprinkler. Such systems are inefficient because of water loss due to vaporization and wind. Additionally, the non-uniform distribution results in over watering of some areas in order to achieve adequate irrigation in other areas.

With cost-share financial assistance, the operator installed a new drip system that can deliver the water needed by the crop directly to the root zone at 95% efficiency. Drip irrigation allows the grower to change the way they manage irrigation water in ways that are better for the crop while reducing water use.

Drip Irrigation Saves Water, Time, and Money

Ornamental seedling beds ready for drip irrigation.

Ornamental seedling beds are ready for drip irrigation.

Potential annual water savings of about 30% had been estimated for this project, which would save 51 acre-feet a year. However, because the field is now strip irrigated, the system’s potential for water savings is even higher. Only about 17 of the 68 acres in the field are actually wetted, but since water spreads laterally as it moves down, the actual area watered is larger. This equates to an estimated annual water use of around 40 acre-feet per year using drip tape, which is a fraction of the water previously used.

The new system is automated and can be run by a controller, meaning it can be started and stopped by flipping a switch. This will save labor that was previously spent moving and resetting sprinkler hand lines.

An Irrigation Water Management system was also put into place. This system uses data from three soil moisture sensors to schedule irrigation events based on what the crop needs. Each soil moisture sensing station records the soil moisture at three depths to help determine how deep the irrigation water is reaching. Soil moisture monitoring allows the grower to identify how much water to apply and when to stop watering, which means just the right amount of water is used for the crop.

Delivering water directly to the crop root zone also provides the ability to chemigate and fertigate the crop. Precision application of nutrients and pest management chemicals reduces the volume of these products that were previously applied to the crop rows. This also eliminates additional tractor passes in the travel lanes, saving fuel and reducing soil compaction.

Partnership Makes Project a Success

Moisture sensors increase water savings.

Moisture sensors increase water savings.

The Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District partnered with East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District on planning and funding this project because the property spans the boundary between the two districts.

Benefits of working together on this irrigation project include:

  • reduced water use
  • reduced chemical and fertilizer use
  • reduced labor cost
  • more consistent watering of the crop
  • fuel reduction
  • less soil compaction
  • reduced soil loss

East Multnomah SWCD is also working with the nursery to develop and help fund an erosion control project plan that will reduce erosion during the wet season.

For more information on how the District can help your operation conserve our shared natural resources here in Clackamas County, please contact us at 503-210-6000. If you are located in east Multnomah County, please contact the East Multnomah SWCD at 503-222-7645.



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