Yonts Water Conference an Update on Water, Grants and More
The 2023 Yonts Water Conference was April 12 at the Panhandle Research, Extension and Education Center in Scottsbluff. The conference, named in honor of Dean Yonts, was the irrigation specialist at the center for many years.
The event hosted more than 50 growers and ag businesses, and the agenda included funding sources for irrigation infrastructure at the local, state and federal levels. Irrigation districts needing funding will have four different funding opportunities to meet their respective repair plans, including the Bureau of Reclamation WaterSmart grant.
“I think the WaterSmart Program might have the most applications for growers and for irrigation districts, and it would be the best route for a grower or a district to go for,” said Rick Wilson, project manager of JEO Consulting Group.
The WaterSmart initiative has 14 different grant programs. The two that apply to water districts are the water energy efficiency grants. The larger grant would include funds for canal lining, piping, and other applications that apply to irrigation districts. The smaller version of the same grant includes similar applications, but funding is $250,000.
The grants are being opened up in the summer of 2023.
“On these projects, they are large. If irrigation districts have some large projects available, they could join together on a cooperative basis and apply for one or two of these grants. It might be a smart avenue to secure funds for their project,” Wilson said.
Welcome news at the conference included the snowpack/snowmelt runoff estimates delivered by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Mills, Wyoming, for the upper North Platte River basin. The forecasted runoff is currently 1.43 million acre-feet with an estimated irrigation demand of 1.1 million acre-feet. The total storage for all reservoirs/water holders in Wyoming is 1.3 million acre-feet. These numbers do not account for a large amount of snowfall in the central Wyoming area last week. That runoff will impact the lower North Platte River basin, and the runoff will be stored in the Glendo Reservoir.
“We’ve had above average inflows to the river, and we’re not anticipating an allocation this year,” said Lyle Myler, area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation Wyoming Area office in Mills. “Both (20)21 and ‘22 were allocation years, and the irrigators did a good job of conserving water and managing their supplies over those two years.”
Regarding the drought and the growing season, area meteorologist Don Day said La Nina is finally moving off after three years of drought. El Nino is moving into the U.S., but the High Plains may not see the full benefits until the spring or summer of 2024.
Research and Canal Update
Dr. Xin Qiao gave a research update on the irrigation water management program he is conducting with area producers called PLAN (Peer Learning Agricultural Network).
The group of growers and ag businesses will be working to create a platform for learning more about technology with support on using it.
“Another objective is to create a database for growers, researchers and businesses to learn from each other with common data on crops and soils to guide research on practical issues,” Qiao said. The network is growing with interest and will eventually include growers and ag businesses outside the panhandle.
HDR Engineering gave an update on the progress of replacing Tunnels 1 and 2 in Wyoming on the Goshen/Gering-Ft Laramie Irrigation Districts mainline canal. Tunnel 2 collapsed in 2019, causing a canal to breach. Irrigation water was curtailed for 44 days and affected 107,000 acres of cropland in the North Platte River Valley. Plans are still proceeding with permitting, design and other logistical requirements. If all goes well, construction/replacement of the tunnels will commence in the fall of 2024 after the irrigation season, scheduled to conclude by the 2025 spring irrigation season.