Hood River growers work on conservation, efficiency for farms - KPTV - FOX 12

Hood River growers work on conservation, efficiency for farms

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Hood River growers are working together to reduce the amount of water they use on their farms. It's all to help conserve and minimize their impact on the area.

"The Hood River, it's really kind of like a life blood of the community," said Chuck Gehling, the Hood River Watershed Group Chair. 

But, there's a growing number of people now depleting the resource and, in turn, compromising the wildlife that depend on its water. 

The Hood River Basin is said to be home to the largest variety of threatened and endangered fish species in the state.

"We definitely have to be as efficient and conservative with water as we can. Climate change is here," said Gehling.

The Hood River Farmers Irrigation District is now doing what it can to conserve water where it can. The district supplies Hood River growers with water from rivers and streams. 

The district built hydropower into its system years ago, with the idea of reinvesting any revenue from sales into more efficient ways to reduce water use.  

It's an idea that's now reality.

"I think what most people don't realize is that irrigation conservation work is the greatest conservation opportunity in the west, period," said Les Perkins, Farmers Irrigation District manager.

To eliminate waste in its canal system, the district is now enclosing those canals in pipe. 

"The reason is that open canals lose water, it can seep through the ground, or evaporate. Pipe eliminated all those issues,” said Perkins.

The canal system is roughly 70 miles long, and there's only 2 1/2 miles left of open canal. The district is still waiting on funds to complete the multi-million-dollar piping project, but leaders say it's already making an impact on water use.

"Pipe allows us to be flexible with how we operate, so we take about half as much water per acre from the river to supply growers than we did 30 years ago," said Perkins.

And those growers are now working to use even less, by changing the way they water their crops.

"I've been able to adjust the amount of water I use," said grower Pete Siragusa.

Siragusa is one of many switching up the irrigation system on his farm to a micro sprinkler system, which uses less water more efficiently. It's a change that also wound up yielding better quality produce.

"You can tell the difference from one year to the next," said Siragusa.

It's a switch that's expensive, but so important to Hood River conservationists they're now working with growers one by one to match them up with grants to fund new irrigation systems.  

"Early on you had to convince people that going this way was going to work and it wasn't going to kill their trees or have issues," said Jordan Kim, Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District manager. "I don't feel like we have to do that anymore, everyone recognizes that this is an easier, simpler, vetted system at this point."

The district estimates 95 percent of its growers now use water more efficiently.

"I think this is probably one of the most progressive irrigation districts in state of Oregon, if not in the west and that's a lot to say because we're just little Hood River," said Siragusa.

Together they're all hoping to make a big difference.  

"Just because we're only here for a little bit of time, why should we have such an extraordinary effect on our planet just because we want something," said Gehling.  "We have to be careful and respectful."

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