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Stories from the valley

Using a little water to save a lot of water

Contributed by Tim Johnson

This picture of sprinklers watering a field during a drought would most likely illicit a comment from a passing motorist. “There go those farmers using all the water they want.”  In reality, this irrigation is part of a sophisticated statewide system designed to save a lot of water.

The irrigation in the above photo is part of the CIMIS system, which is the California Irrigation Management Information System. Specifically designed to calculate how much water is being used daily, it allows for precise watering of crops.

During this drought you have no doubt heard of evapotranspiration, also called ET. This is a calculation of the amount of water that evaporates plus the amount of water the plant uses. This is the system of monitors that ET.

This statewide system of weather stations monitor the amount of water used in an irrigated acre of pasture based on the temperature, solar radiation, wind, soil temperature and humidity. Scientists have calculated the relationship between pasture and major crops in the state. The result is that every wine grape grower and apple grower in El Dorado County can know each day how much water was used by their vines or trees from the CIMIS Site 228 right here at Walker Vineyard. On Saturday, July 18, the ET was .24 inches.

For our part, we set aside an acre of vineyard space and installed the sprinklers. We also pick up the cost for irrigation. In return we, like every other farmer in our county, can log onto the CIMIS site and get very specific information on how much we should irrigate using our drip system.

So, a little water is being used to save a lot using this advanced system of weather stations and some great crop science.