By Mark Akimoff

After this long, hot summer, the first of the fall rains has finally come to green things up again. It was a historically hot summer, perhaps the hottest ever seen on record. It brought a lot of concerns from local farmers about how to keep crop production up in the face of worsening drought conditions. Irrigated agriculture consumes the largest portion of the United States’ water resources. It is estimated that globally over 2 quadrillion gallons of water are used in agricultural production annually. That is a really, really big number — so big in fact It’s hard even to wrap your head around it. A quadrillion is a million billion. Imagine a billion and then multiply it by a million, and that’s the amount we are talking about here. Of that 2 quadrillion gallons that is used every year around the globe, about 40% is lost to the environment through inefficient irrigation systems, evaporation, or poor water management.

The Marion SWCD has been working in part to conserve our precious water resources. Through our LAP program we provide farmers with the tools to better use water and maximize efficiency. I added up the estimated water savings from just the 12 LAP irrigation improvement projects that cooperators are working on now, and the gallons of water saved through these efforts came to 98,540,995 —  almost one hundred million gallons of water saved just from projects that are being implemented right now. One such project to put water savings on the ground is converting “big gun” traveler systems, which put out huge volumes of water that can be lost to wind drift and cause erosion on the soil they hit, over to drip systems. This has been especially successful on crops such as caneberries and hazelnuts in the valley. We have several linear overhead irrigation systems under construction right now as well. Linear travelling overhead irrigation systems can utilize low-flow nozzle systems and travel at operator-set speeds across a field to deliver the precise amount of water needed while avoiding runoff and droplet-caused erosion.

I recently got to tour the brand new Agricultural Sciences and Technology Hub at Chemeketa Community College. This past summer they had a 160-foot single-span GPS linear installed for students studying ag sciences. The system was donated to the college by Valley Irrigation. It is going to be used to irrigate a half-acre of organic vegetable and fruit production. It will also serve the woody ornamentals lab which demonstrates growing trees in bare root, balled, and burlapped production methods. Students working on the one-year irrigation certificate program will get to learn about the newest and most efficient agricultural irrigation systems. It’s good to know that with the changing environment, students are learning methods of plant production and irrigation that maximize water usage efficiency. This generation of students will become the next generation of ag producers with the knowledge and tools to adapt to the changing climatic conditions we are facing. Down the road, hopefully, we can save some of that 2 quadrillion gallons of water for future generations to enjoy.

In case you want to know what it looks like written out, 2 quadrillion is 2,000,000,000,000,000.