Dwindling water supplies prompt recommendations for growers

WESLACO  —  Texas A&M AgriLife Research has released a set of recommendations for South Texas growers facing an extended drought and dwindling water supplies, according to an agency water engineer.

Dr. Juan Enciso, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research water engineer, has helped develop a list of 16 recommendations for growers facing curtailed water supplies next year. (AgriLife Communications by Rod Santa Ana)

“A relentless drought, record high temperatures and depleted water reserves for the past two years in South Texas require us to take a closer look at how we manage water under water-limiting conditions,” said Dr. Juan Enciso, a water engineer at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.

While the state has suffered multi-billion dollar agricultural losses due to drought, the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas has been especially hard-hit, he said.

“We’re facing a critical situation in the months to come in providing water for domestic and business consumption, and because of projected water shortages, many irrigation districts in the Rio Grande Valley have informed growers that water may have to be allocated next year,” Enciso said.

But not all irrigation water districts are created equal, according to Wayne Halbert, manager of the Harlingen Irrigation District, one of 26 in the Valley.

“Before growers start planning for what they’re going to plant next year, they need to contact the manager of the irrigation district they are in,” he said. “Each irrigation district has individual allocations of water, policies of how water is allocated and water duties, meaning water available to farmers varies by district.”

By now, Halbert said, irrigation district managers know how much water they’ll have next year.

“They each know their storage water amount, so they can tell growers what to expect so growers can make decisions on what they should or should not plant. Unfortunately, sugarcane and citrus growers are locked into the water they need, but they have options in planting other crops such as grain sorghum, cotton or corn.

Maybe, based on what their irrigation manager says, they’ll decide to plant part of their crop on dryland in order to save water for their other crops. It all depends on the grower and the district he or she is in; no one person can tell growers what to expect Valley-wide. Only their irrigation manager can do that.”

AgriLife Research has provided 16 management recommendations to help growers address this period of limited water supplies, Enciso said.

“It’s a long list that is available by emailing me at j-enciso@tamu.edu,” he said. “These recommendations are also available at http://weslaco.tamu.edu. The list includes taking advantage of this drought to level their land, install flow meters and rain gauges to better manage water use, reduce irrigated areas to give priority to perennial crops like citrus and sugarcane, plant more drought-resistant crops, and consider which crops have high- and low-yield response, profitability and risk to water stress.”

Others recommendations include considerations regarding irrigating at critical crop growth stages, managing furrow flow rates to advance water faster on rows to reduce deep percolation, supervise irrigation to avoid runoff, reduce the irrigated areas and the number of irrigations in some crops, he said.

Also on the list is using plastic irrigation pipes, irrigating alternate rows, irrigating on furrows compacted by the traffic of tractor wheels and the use of surge irrigation. Farmers can also plant dryland crops such as sorghum and cotton.

“The details on each of these recommendations vary by district and farmer; not all recommendations apply to all growers. But our office is ready to help any and all growers who would like more information,” Enciso said.

The list of recommendations was compiled by AgriLife Research with input from the Lower Rio Grande Valley Water District Managers’ Association, he said.

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