Agriculture uses a huge amount of groundwater and surface water nationally, up to 37% of the nation’s consumptive water use and 80% in the West. Efficient irrigation systems and water management practices can help maintain farm profitability in areas of increasingly limited and more costly water supplies.
A new irrigation technology tool called IrrigationViz provides a plethora of benefits, including stimulating economic growth for farmers and rural communities, producing renewable energy, and preserving the environment. Reinvestment in the nation’s current irrigation system could additionally curb carbon emissions in the farming sector, which is at the forefront of the U.S. departments of Energy and Agriculture’s agenda, as the nation attempts to fight climate change.
As a result of these benefits, the Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO), Idaho National Laboratory, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have partnered in creating a novel software tool called IrrigationViz, to better evaluate the costs and benefits of modernizing the current irrigation system.
American Irrigation: a Legacy Holdover
Federal investment in irrigation dates back to 1871, and it is greatly responsible for forming the rural economy in the U.S. A vast network of reservoirs, canals, levees, headgates, and culverts provides water to nearly 18.7 million acres of farmland, serving one-third of the U.S. population and generating 50% of the nation’s total crop revenue. However, the country’s current irrigation infrastructure has been unmodified since the 1970’s. As a result, billions of dollars are lost that could be used for reinvestment in a multitude of infrastructure projects and changes. Idaho National Laboratory (INL) estimates that the current system loses as much as 30% of its water to seepage and evaporation. Concurrently, the demand for water continues to grow, and is not limited to irrigators. Other rising demands for water include conservationists, recreationists, industry, and municipalities.
Irrigation technology has advanced drastically, with pressurized pipes now able to harvest power from the water flow, using in-pipe turbines that can help reduce the reliance on current diesel-powered electric pumps. In the near future this technology can also be utilized to power electric tractors and combines. These pressurized pipes may also carry fiberoptic cables, helping to bring broadband to rural areas in need of high-speed internet options.
INL and PNNL’s IrrigationViz is a decision support and visualization tool that enables users to estimate how much water is lost by the current system, how much water would be saved by specific investments, and how much hydropower potential there is in the system. It also can estimate what higher value crops can be planted, based on how the tool improves water reliability, water purification and habitat benefits that include wetlands and connecting surface and groundwater sources.
IrrigationViz has the potential for private firms and irrigators to identify the most important projects for their system. Using a mix of public and local data as well as geographic information systems, the tool can generate the plans required to access federal funding programs including those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The tool will provide communities the ability to recognize which system is best for them and can also help stakeholders identify the best option that provides the most ROI for farmers, local communities, and the environment. The tool can be implemented to offer both short-term and long-term benefits as well. “Near-term returns include more local jobs, higher profits for farmers, investments in rural communities and increased water supply for various uses. Reducing the carbon footprint of agricultural operations, increasing renewable energy generation, and promoting environmental sustainability and community resilience are examples of long-term benefits,” said Thomas Mosier, INL’s system energy lead. INL is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory that focuses its efforts on the DOE’s four major strategic goal sectors: energy national security, science, and environment.
Source: INL, Cleantech Concepts