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'Farmers Can Help'

May 26, 1985

Regarding your editorial (May 12), "Farmers Can Help":

Farmers are reluctant to even talk about water conservation measures out of fear that such projects will cost them money. They are already hard pressed financially; but rather than costing them money, conservation can save them money.

Israel has led the way in some conservation measures. Irrigation water there costs more than $500 per acre-foot, so efficiency in water use generally exceeds ours and can be a model. At that cost most California farmers could go out of business. Many farmers in Israel would also, were it not for superior efficiency procedures.

Israel computers respond to sensors, turn irrigation systems on and off so that crops get water exactly when needed and as much as needed. At $500 per acre-foot, no water can be wasted or profits would disappear. Drip irrigation was developed in that country and is preferred because it uses less water than furrow irrigation.

There are at least three other ways in which California farmers could save water.

Each way relates to a new high-technology under late stages of testing. Many farmers use sprinkler irrigation to water up a newly planted crop. The purpose is to keep soil from crusting hard, which prevents seed emergence. When this new technology is adopted, most of this sprinkler irrigation water can be saved.

Many California soils have poor water intake due to the same forces that result in crusting. The same new technology can prevent considerable water runoff and erosion and increase irrigation efficiency and ease of leaching of salts from soil. The mulch of soil particles on the surface resulting from new technology decreases evaporative loss of water when soil is not covered with plants.

At least 10% to 20% of current water use in irrigation in California can be saved. Value of water used plus increased crop production easily pay the costs.

Three or more million acre-feet of water saved per year, which is worth close to a billion dollars per year, could be the reward. Various agencies in the state would then have enough water for many decades to come.


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