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Colorado River Indian Tribes use new tech on farms to conserve water

PHOTO: Drought conditions at the Colorado River, Photo Date: Aug 16, 2021
snwavideo / YouTube
PHOTO: Drought conditions at the Colorado River, Photo Date: Aug 16, 2021

By Melissa Blasius

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    COLORADO (KNXV) — The Colorado River Indian Tribes Farm is experimenting with new irrigation technology that could help conserve water for future generations.

The farm which encompasses more than 30,000 acres, is located in western Arizona, south of Parker. The fields use Colorado River water for irrigation.

While CRIT has first priority water rights in Arizona, this community has agreed with the federal government on large-scale conservation efforts, aimed to keep the level of Lake Mead 10 feet higher this year.

Josh Moore is the farm manager. Earlier this month, he took ABC15 Investigator Melissa Blasius on a tour of their farming operations.

The farm grows a variety of crops, including alfalfa, cotton, wheat and onions. Alfalfa is the most water intensive-crop, and it is sold for cattle feed locally, nationally, and internationally.​

“For an acre of alfalfa, we plan to use maybe eight acre-feet of water a year,” said Moore. “If we could save anywhere between 20 to 30% of water, we’d be very happy with the same yields.”

That amount of water savings would be enough to supply 26,000 Arizona family homes.

To accomplish that goal, CRIT Farm is moving away from flood irrigation on some fields to try drip irrigation instead. They have worked with a company called N-Drip to install lines down rows of alfalfa with small water emitters just below the surface of the soil.

Moore said they water smaller amounts, more often, for longer periods of time.

“You’re applying water to the root zone, so you’re reducing evaporation loss,” said Moore.

Water still arrives at the field through the existing canal system, although some canals have been newly lined to reduce seepage.

The water then flows into small tanks with a mesh filter to prevent debris from getting in the lines, there is also a measuring device to monitor the amount of water entering the field at each point.

“I get updates on my cell phone, in my email, letting me know what the soil moisture is of my field [and] recommended dosage for irrigation,” said Moore.

Moore admits that they technology hasn’t been perfect. He tells ABC15 they keep track of watering amounts and yields to try to find the best combination.

He says he’s learning from experts in other arid areas around the world who also use N-Drip.

Moore said his grandfather once worked in irrigation on these farms, and “he would always tell me that this is this is your land – you need to take care of it.”

Moore thinks this innovation will help ensure his children can also farm on tribal lands someday.

“It’s really important to me to kind of challenge the status quo, to try things that haven’t been tried, to experiment, to do research, to help others,” Moore said.

By conserving the water, Moore is also preserving his Native American heritage.

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