A crash course in irrigation, vol. 2

Hello, could everyone please put on their interested faces? We’re going to get into the nuts and bolts of learning how to run ditch water on our farm, and we know you won’t want to miss a single moment.

We ordered our water two weeks ago; today is the final day of the season we can have it. We’ve called for half a foot for two days, the minimum we can request and hopefully enough for us to test our gated pipe and our repairs. There will be no more testing this season after this run, so we need to learn all we can.

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At the headgate before sunrise.

The morning of the irrigation call starts with a pre-dawn alarm and a drive to the headgate (about a half-mile north of our farm). On the stile post we find a metal tin with the day’s water requests: where the water is going and in what quantity. The paper below it lists which households are on which ditch lateral (west or south).

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This is the Stevens and Linder ditch ticket; there are four requests with the totals listed (names underneath ours removed for privacy). All four of the day’s requests are located on the west lateral so the first task was to shut the headgate to the south lateral, thereby directing all the water to the west.

The ticket shows the quantity of water requested by us (.50 or half a foot), the corresponding gauge chart conversion (.47) – to be remembered to help set the flow gauge on our property – and lastly the water shrink to be expected due to ditch loss (6%). Requests three and four on the ticket won’t suffer the 6% water shrink because they’re on decree water and it doesn’t apply. Those folks have senior water rights which allows them decree water (free and separate from their water shares) even at the end of the season. For almost everyone else this season, there was no decree water at all; the reservoirs are too low to allow it. We’re supposedly in a hundred-year drought, but even that is a misnomer; we’ll almost certainly see a drought this severe or worse again in our lifetimes. Extreme drought is the new normal here, and learning how to properly manage our water rights will be key to our longterm success.

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The gate is opened at Quiet Farm and the water starts to flow into the flume.

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Now it’s time to reach for our flow gauge conversion chart. We asked for half a foot of water and can expect 6% ditch shrink. That means we will actually get .47 of a foot, so when it runs through our 6″ flume, the water height should be .39. Any more is taking water that isn’t ours and any less is giving our water away to our neighbors. Simple, right?

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This level is adjusted by opening or closing the gate at the flume. There’s a baffle in the flume to calm the water, but the level is difficult to read.

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The water leaves the flume and the ditch widens to further calm the flow before it enters our pipeline.

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The water is quite noisy as it travels though the pipe and eventually emerges cold and crisp from the gates.

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As the morning progresses it becomes painfully apparent that irrigating fields without properly marked channels to guide the water is pointless. We also don’t want to waste the water by letting it pool here, so it’s time to move it elsewhere.

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It takes a surprisingly long time for the water to move across our pastures and many minutes are spent staring at open gates waiting for it to appear. Our neighbors must wonder what we’re up to – but clearly we’re outstanding in our fields.

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Despite hours spent prepping pipes and clearing blockages, the water didn’t always go where it was supposed to. Ill-fitting joints and newfound cracks cause unplanned irrigation where we least want it. We did, however, find $90 of broken gates blocking a valve. That’s almost like a paycheck!

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Broken gates to the left and new gates to the right. Plus a tool to put everything together.

The little black gates all along the gated pipe are composed of three pieces. A back plate with a rubber gasket seals the pipe when the gate is shut. The front plate is attached with a “U” clip which – judging by the number of broken ones in our pasture – are quite brittle. The tool helps keep the back plate in place inside the pipe whilst the front plate is clipped in place with the “U” clip. Got that?

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The land uphill of this pipe hasn’t been watered yet.

We learn that half a foot of water run for two days doesn’t go very far on eight acres of exceptionally dry pasture. (And before anyone helpfully points out that it would be more efficient to irrigate from the top down, we have whole sections of pipe that are rotated beyond use. This week we’ll label the pipes then pull them apart to clean and store and ideally prevent any more damage from occurring.)

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In the spring, we’ll lay the pipe out again and rotate the gates accordingly for maximum flow. Then we’ll figure out how to mark the channels. Just you wait until we get our hands on a tractor!

P.S. N had to do all of this himself while I attended seed school in Denver; he deserves extra credit for taking gorgeous photos while also scribbling notes and making sure our house and outbuildings didn’t flood. Well done!

4 thoughts on “A crash course in irrigation, vol. 2

  1. I’m learning a great deal through your postings. Keep up the good work. We wish you the very best in your new endeavor and applaud your willingness to share your trials, tribulations, successes and insights online. Take care and hugs to you both! 🙂

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  2. Gads! I am glad we have our own. Even though our crops use much more water directly, there are not as many of them spread out over such a huge irrigated area. Because of the terrain, it drains into a recyclery pond. We cannot let it drain back into the creek. Our sort of water usage would not be allowed now, and there are those who would like to shut it down. (That is one of the many problems with land that developers want.)

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