Whether delivered through a series of ditches and orange tarps or through dozens of sprinkler heads on a large wheeled center pivot, irrigation water is vital to sustainable Blackfoot agriculture. Working in partnership with landowners, the Blackfoot Challenge offers tools to inform efficient and effective use of irrigation water and support planning for varying water supply conditions.
Irrigation Scheduling and Water Management
Irrigation scheduling is simply applying the right amount of water at the right time to maximize production and minimize adverse environmental impacts. When applied, irrigation scheduling has the potential to conserve energy and water, reduce production costs, and improve crop production. In addition, irrigation scheduling gives irrigators tools for adapting to changes in water availability.
The Blackfoot Irrigation Scheduling Program provides irrigators with information to better use their water resources and manage for improved soil health. The program includes weekly irrigation reports throughout the summer for the community at large, as well as more in-depth technical assistance for individual irrigators looking to maximize their soil health and irrigation practices. In 2019, the Challenge added soil moisture monitoring to the irrigation scheduling program, working with individual irrigators to install soil moisture data recorders and help track trends in soil moisture throughout the irrigation season.
Download the Blackfoot Irrigation Guide, Revised March 2020. Compiled by long-time Blackfoot Soil Scientist Barry Dutton, this guide is full of tips and tools for scheduling irrigation, assessing soil moisture, estimating crop water use, and planning for potential drought.
Regular upgrades to irrigation pumps and other infrastructure can improve energy efficiency, reduce energy costs, and conserve water. The Blackfoot Challenge offers irrigation system efficiency tests to assess aging systems and offer irrigators options for saving money, water and energy. Some of the issues commonly identified during these evaluations include worn pump components, motors, and sprinkler equipment as well as improperly sized pumps, motors, and sprinklers. Ensuring irrigation equipment is sized properly and working as efficiently as possible makes for the best use of water and energy, improves crop uniformity and production, and most importantly, saves money.
Irrigators in the Blackfoot watershed are eligible for rebates and incentives offered through Missoula Electric Cooperative for energy saving measures. The Blackfoot Challenge helps landowners test irrigation systems, gather the information they need, and apply for rebates to rebuild or replace pumps, install variable frequency drives, and update sprinkler packages.