Water conservation is receiving a wave of support by local Delta farmers, and the Yazoo Mississippi Delta Water Management District of Stoneville is on-board to assist.
Working in conjunction with local producers, Will Nichols, water resource specialist with YMD, is working to help educate and aid farmers in how to recover irrigation water for reuse through tail-water pump systems.
"What we do is conserve to preserve the aquifer," he said.
The aquifer is basically the underground reserve where the farmers get the groundwater needed for farming. The YMD has a 30-member panel that meets monthly to discuss and make decisions about what's best for the aquifer, focusing on ways to conserve water.
Local farmer Elton Britt said that there are basically two aquifers, one that is used for farming and one that is used to extract drinking water. Drinking water aquifers are much deeper than agricultural aquifers. "There's a lot of water up under us and we want it to stay there," he said.
In addition to the YMD, the Sunflower County Soil and Water Conservation District is also working with area educators to help raise up a new crop of conservationists.
Tammy Kitchens, information specialist for the district, recently held a workshop with a small group of teachers from Sunflower and Bolivar counties who are learning more about water conservation so they can incorporate that knowledge into their classrooms. "It's all about conservation, protecting and conserving our natural resources," Kitchens said.
Mostly elementary school educators, who earn five continuing education units towards their licenses renewal requirements, attended the 50-hour, weeklong environmental educational workshop.
Kitchens said that while many public schools are doing away with the science curriculum, by participating in the course, teachers are able to bring a little science back into the classroom while teaching math, language and other subjects at the same time. "I partner with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and what we do is put conservation on the ground, that’s wells (and) tail water recovery systems,” Kitchens said.
The course is funded by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and is free for the teachers. During the weeklong study, one of the things that the teachers learned was about the operation of the tail-water recovery system.
Out in the field, Britt and Nichols explained the process to the teachers and the tools used to implement. When operated properly, a tail-water pump recovery system will maximize irrigation efficiency and minimize environmental impact.
Britt has enthusiastically embraced the concept of conservation and the teachers got a chance to see the recovery system up close.
Referencing his fellow farmers, Britt said, "Everybody needs to start implementing the conservation water practices now, before the aquifer depletes itself,” he added, “If everybody gets on board now maybe that day will never come.”
Britt, like other farmers, has sacrificed a portion of his cropland area to excavate reservoirs to hold rainwater and catch crop runoff. He said a few local farming operations can typically use over a million gallons of water a day. “So, if I can save one watering,” Britt said.
He estimated that one inch of water on a one-acre field equates to about 25,000 to 30,000 gallons of water and when you multiply that by hundreds of acres, "Then that's a lot of water," Britt said. He said his reservoirs could potentially hold enough water to irrigate a 300-acre crop four to five times.
At one site, he's recouping water from over a thousand acres that run back into the reservoir "As long as the reservoir is full, we use reservoir water," he said.
With the tail-water recovery system there are at least two pumps used, one pulls water out of the ground while the other one reuses the water by redistributing it to the crops from the big reservoir.
Pointing to the irrigation poly pipes, Britt said, “All of the water that is used to irrigate with doesn't just run off into the ditches, it runs back into this reservoir pump on the other end so it gets recycled.” Rainwater also is held in that reservoir.
Part of what the Sunflower County Soil and Water Conservation District does is install soil moisture sensors, which tell the level of moisture in the soil. And YMD does a semi-annual water level survey and that measures the static water levels in the wells.
Nichols said, “We have a great team in the Delta. Dillard Melton is over our permitting department and Don Christy is our executive director, just great people.”