Let’s all take a look at the amount of water used by irrigators


This is the year of drought in the American West. Is it the twelfth or fifteenth year? I suppose it depends on the statistics and how they are read.

One fact seems to remain the same however and that is the amount of irrigation that takes place. It seems that irrigators pay no attention to the decreasing resource that is water. 

The National Geographic’s piece on the Ogalla Aquifer pointed out that some folks in the Great Plains had switched to dry land farming while others were going to pump until the well goes dry. The pumpers will be the losers in the long run. They will not be able to make the transition to dry land farming without a major disruption in their harvest cycle. 

Here in Paradise Valley there are at least 80 odd pivot sprinklers of varying lengths. If we took an average of 500 feet for example, the water drawn from either ground water or surface water would amount to over one billion gallons during the May to October season. Much of this water does not get recycled into the aquifer and is lost to evaporation and/or transpiration.

With the Yellowstone River closure this year due to low water levels, high water temperatures and something that is killing a lot of fish one has to wonder if the water that would have reached the river from Mill Creek, Emigrant Creek and Six Mile Creek and many other tributaries would have made a difference in the water levels, water temperatures and closure of the Yellowstone River this summer. 

Perhaps the Upper Yellowstone Watershed Basin folks can take a look at this issue and accommodate the Yellowstone River by allowing those water sources to flow into the Yellowstone River throughout the critical summer season. This would mean a sharing of the water by the agricultural community for the benefit of the Yellowstone River, the communities downstream and those who depend on the fishery for a living too. 

The fishing community, irrigators and community leaders might consider a forum to discuss the drought, water resources and consumption so that the fields will be green and the fishery will remain open in the future.

Peter Murray