Click here to listen to the podcast from H2O Radio. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
Agriculture uses a lot of water. But what if that water were used for more than growing food? What if it could generate energy—renewable energy? It can, and a program in Colorado is helping farmers harness hydropower to lower costs, save time—and conserve the water itself.
Tyler Snyder ranches just outside Yampa, Colorado, in the northwest part of the state, and he has several hundred acres that were part of several old homesteads. Back in the early 1900s, farmers grew potatoes, head lettuce, and strawberries on his fields by flooding meadows with diverted water.
Snyder is pretty impressed that those early settlers dug ditches in these rocky conditions using only picks and mules pulling plows—partly because he recently spent months digging miles of trench himself. It was slow going and time-consuming because he had to screen out rocks to make sure nothing would sit against pipe he was laying.
More than a century later, Snyder has installed pipelines that move water differently on his property than those historic ditches—a move that is saving him time, labor, and money—plus conserving the water itself.
A whooshing sound pierces the air as water starts to flow through the pipe. It’s going to a “center pivot” in the meadow where we’re standing. A center pivot is a way of irrigating that makes those bright green circles you see from airplanes. Water comes up in the middle of a field and motorized wheels move a long arm with sprinklers around in a circle.
But Snyder’s center pivot is different that ones you might see in other parts of the country. It’s a “hydro-mechanical” center pivot for irrigation. It’s called hydro-mechanical because it’s powered by moving water—no diesel or electricity are required to make it work—just gravity. The pressure that builds as the water is piped down the hillside is great enough to spin a turbine, which provides energy for its hydraulic motors.
After the pivot pressurizes, water starts to spray out of nozzles strung along the long arm that stretches over a quarter of a mile out into Snyder’s field, putting the droplets exactly where they need to go.
Snyder says that flood irrigation uses only about 30-40 percent of the water in order to grow the same quality crop as you do with an efficiency project that uses all the water that you put on because it doesn’t run off. He says when he was flood irrigating the water would collect at the bottom of his fields, often leaving the top land burnt and dry.