Wise with Water

Irrigation Pivot-0980.jpg

By Jayme Lozano / A-J Media

 The Ogallala Aquifer has been relied on by communities in eight states for agriculture, drinking water and industry uses since at least 1889. As the water levels have steadily declined, however, there is now a race against the clock to make it sustainable again.

 The High Plains Underground Water Conservation District estimates that there are around 60,000 wells throughout the 16 counties covered by the district. The number has increased over time to meet the needs and demands of the communities, but has also served as a safety net for farmers who have struggled with the common drought issues in West Texas.

 "Agriculture here with the aquifer has been so good for so long, we've been totally dependent on it," said Barry Evans, a Kress producer in the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation. "Now as it's being depleted, we just can't anymore, so we have to figure out how to go without it."

 Evans grows cotton and grain sorghum, and for 25 years has been completely no-till. The technique helps the soil structure remain in-tact, and improves the soil cover to increase the ability to absorb water.

 "The reason I do that is to try to capture every bit of moisture we have, every bit of rain that falls and not losing it, every little bit makes a difference in this part of the world," Evans said. "We really have to save [the water] and use it as necessary."

 While Evans is very conscientious about his water use, there are other producers who still aren't keeping future use of the aquifer in mind despite the studies done by groups including the TAWC.

 "There's certainly some people that are more aware and more conserving than others, and some who want to keep doing what they've always done and don't follow the research," said Evans. "I wish every farmer would. It's important to know what is the most efficient. Everyone wants to make the best use of the aquifer, and I really wish more people would look at what they do."

 The story could change year-by-year though as the climate has grown increasingly unpredictable with each planting season. While there was a drought to start 2018, that was quickly followed by a short burst of heavy rain and hail that destroyed some crops. And this year has seen above-average rainfall that both hurt and helped producers.

 "There hasn't been that much irrigation within the water district so far because of the rain," said Jason Coleman, general manager of the HPWD. "When we see those daily values stay constant, that tells us the pump is not on and the water level is staying there at a higher level."

 Rather than depend on the whims of Mother Nature, the HPWD has several long-term studies still underway to better understand the aquifer and effects of pumping water over time. Current projects consist of interactive maps and guides of the area covered in the water district, and on June 12, two proposals were approved for $157,000 in funding to research recharging methods.

 "We have an improving groundwater recharge project and mapping of playa wetness and estimating recharge project," Coleman said. "I would say before the summer is out, all of that will be in place and the work will be underway."

 While recharge research is beginning, there are other methods in place that are guiding producers towards conserving the water they do have in the meantime. Lloyd Arthur, a cotton producer from Ralls who is also part of the TAWC, contributes his techniques to a useful app called FieldNET that helps him monitor irrigation pivots from a phone or computer.

 "I'm able to speed up the pivot to 100% so I'm not watering the land I don't want to water, and then slow it down and apply more water to my crop, and all in the degrees of a circle," Arthur said. "I have since gotten them on all of my pivots, I think they're that good and valuable of a tool. They do come with a cost, but the value of it for what I'm getting and savings for being a good steward of the water to my land is well worth it."

Telemetry systems, like FieldNet, are typically equipped with a control box, a tipping bucket rain gauge and a series of pressure transducers. The control box is the communication hub. It receives information from the other system components and transmits this information to the user’s phone or computer. In turn, the user can control the pivot from these devices, which helps conserve water, time and resources.

Telemetry systems, like FieldNet, are typically equipped with a control box, a tipping bucket rain gauge and a series of pressure transducers. The control box is the communication hub. It receives information from the other system components and transmits this information to the user’s phone or computer. In turn, the user can control the pivot from these devices, which helps conserve water, time and resources.

 Arthur said the technology has been very helpful for him because, while a quick glance can show when crops are in distress, the app goes into detail about what kind of water the crop is using and therefore, could be causing problems. Data can also be shared between fields to see where farmers want to water rather than getting the management tool on every acre.

 "I think it's helped me do a better job of being more efficient with the water that we're pumping out of the Ogallala," said Arthur, whose farm was chosen for the TAWC's first round of studies. "All farmers are conscious of the water and the water we're pumping, we all know the Ogallala is being depleted and we're trying to do our best to make it sustainable and profitable at the same time."

 The first crop planted by the TAWC was in 2005, after then-State Sen. Robert Duncan of Lubbock sponsored the legislation that led to grant money being available for the research. In 2010, the group started using moisture sensors that informs growers of the depth the crops are rooted and where the water is being pulled from. After seeing the results, part of the mission for the TAWC became helping farmers get the technology in their hands.

 "We try to help them use the technologies and let them make the decision on how well it worked," said Rick Kellison, TAWC project director. "We're not telling a grower that this technology is better than that one, we're just saying there are differences and what they are."

 The Ogallala Aquifer is still a critical asset to the agriculture community, so it can be hard for some to cut back when the need is there. Kellison explained that instead, sometimes the best answer is making the most out of water that is pumped.

 "If a grower is taking an amount of water and maximizing the production that the amount of water is giving, we think that's using water wisely because it's contributing to the total economy," said Kellison. "Water is only part of the puzzle, our producers are doing a phenomenal job in incorporating all of the best management practices."

 The issue of the depleting aquifer is a serious concern but the efforts to conserve and use it wisely are becoming more effective. Researchers at Texas Tech University are testing grazing methods that have shown to be successful in using alfalfa-grass mixtures to get increased weight gain in cattle while also using less water.

 According to Kellison, a company in Israel spoke with the TAWC about delivering technology that incorporates plant nutrition and water delivery. There has also been interest in multi-species cover crops that will better soil health so it's more receptive to capturing rainfall.

 Techniques and research to save the Ogallala Aquifer are sure to continue, as the agriculture community is taking the problem seriously and are not wanting to see it be wasted anymore.

 "There is a concerted effort from growers to do the very best job they can and we have got excellent support from different industries to help," said Kellison. "We're doing more with less today by far than we were 20 years ago, and I don't know a grower that's not aware and trying to do the best they can."

Check out water levels near your property by visiting  map.hpwd.org

Check out water levels near your property by visiting map.hpwd.org

You Never Miss The Water Until The Well Goes Dry

Reprinted from The Cross Section, Volume 1, No. 2 — July 1954

One of the objectives of the HPUWCD is to continuously call to the attention of the people of this area the fact that the water in the High Plains is a depletable resource. Water has, on occasion, been referred to as a mineral, and like any other mineral, if it is continuously mined, can be exhausted.

The annual reports of the State Board of Water Engineers and the U.S. Geological Survey show that in the southern High Plains we have been taking out water at an unusually high rate in the past few years. We are going to present this factual information as it becomes available to impress upon the minds of the agricultural industrial and municipal water users the necessity of conservative, wise use of water before the well goes completely dry,

Since the principal economy of the Southern High Plains is agricultural, we have coined a phrase that should become foremost on the tongue of every farmer, banker, pump dealer, and well driller in the High Plains — “Conservation Irrigation.”

Conservation Irrigation to us means the use of our irrigation water as an insurance, not as a means of getting rich quickly at the expense of our water and our posterity.

Conservation Irrigation should mean the prolongment of our present economy as long as possible, eliminating to a bare minimum the mining of our valuable resource for the benefit of the few who are using it today.

Certainly, water in storage is like fruit in a jar. It is no good unless put to beneficial use. But few people have consumed a jar of fruit at one sitting, for in so doing, they not only suffer the physical consequences, but tomorrow, they have no fruit for their next meal.

We cannot say that harvesting the fruits of a bountiful harvest produced by indiscriminate pumping would hurt us, but what of the harvest of tomorrow?

As Benjamin Franklin so aptly said, “You never miss the water until the well goes dry.”

HPWD Board approves research and demonstration project funding

More than $157,000 in funding for water research and education was approved by the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District (HPWD) Board of Directors at their June 11 meeting.

 There were 16 projects submitted for funding. Each was evaluated by an eight-member committee, consisting of three Board members, two County Advisory Committee members, two members of the public, and the General Manager.

 Of these, 11 projects were approved. They are:

  • Plant Based Polymers to Remove Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and Arsenic in Groundwater.

  • Rainwater Harvesting Demonstration Project.

  • Evaluation of TDR Soil Moisture Sensor.

  • Drought Tolerant Corn Hybrids.

  • Improving Groundwater Recharge.

  • Mapping Playa Wetness & Estimating Playa Recharge.

  • 3D Aquifer Visualization Model.

  • Water Conservation Demonstration Garden.

  • Effects of Shade on Water Use in Turfgrass.

  • Playa Basin Field Days & Festivals.

  • Texas 4-H Water Ambassadors.

“HPWD is pleased to support these educators and researchers as they work to encourage water conservation education, promote more efficient water use, and improve crop production. Each approved project is designed to help conserve and preserve groundwater resources for the future,” said Board President Lynn Tate of Amarillo.

For more information about HPWD supported research, please visit www.hpwd.org/research or call the district office at (806) 762-0181. You can also find HPWD on Facebook and Twitter.

Minimal groundwater legislation to pass during legislative session

By Victoria Whitehead, HPWD General Counsel

As this issue of The Cross Section is emailed, the 86th Texas Legislature prepares to adjourn "sine die" on May 27.

HPWD tracked more than 100 bills this legislative session.  With just a few days remaining in the regular session, it appears the following bills are still moving forward:  

-          Aquifer Storage & Recovery: Permitting Process, Financial Incentives, & TWDB Studies (HB 720, HB 721, HB 1052, HB 726, SB 1041, & HB 1594)

-          Brackish Groundwater Permitting (HB 722)

-          Creation of an Interregional Planning Council for Regional Water Planning Groups (HB 807)

-          Government Transparency: Open Meetings & Fiscal Transparency (HB 305)

-          Property Tax: Rollback Rates & Appraisal Process (HB 2 & SB 2)

Bills that didn’t quite make it past the finish line:

-          Similar Rules within a Groundwater Management Area (SB 1010)

-          Attorney’s fees for landowners when a GCD is a party (HB 2125 & SB 851)

-          Permitting for rural water utility providers (HB 2122 & HB 2249)

-          Efforts under Chapter 36 to ensure GCD rules are science based and effectively protect private property rights.  (HB 2123 & SB 2026)

Good News: Very few pieces of legislation will pass.  Bad News: Many topics of importance to the legislature went unresolved and will likely emerge again next session.  The legislative session ends on Monday, May 27th. 

An overview of the 86th Texas Legislative Session will be presented to the HPWD Board of Directors at their June 11 meeting in Lubbock.

May 25-27 Sales Tax Holidays for Water-Efficient and ENERGY STAR® Products

Texas families and businesses can save on the purchase of certain water- and energy-efficient products during the state's Water-Efficient Products and ENERGY STAR® sales tax holidays. Both take place Saturday, May 25, through Monday, May 27.

The Texas Comptroller's office estimates shoppers will save about $12.6 million in state and local sales tax during the Memorial Day weekend sales tax holidays.

"Inefficient appliances and outdated water systems can put a tremendous strain on our power grids and water supplies,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said. “By taking advantage of these sales tax holidays, Texans can make upgrades that will help alleviate those pressures and lower their utility bills — while saving money on state and local sales taxes.”"

This is the fourth year for the Water-Efficient Products Sales Tax Holiday. Products displaying a WaterSense® label or logo can be purchased tax-free for personal or business use. These include showerheads, bathroom sink faucets and accessories, toilets, urinals and landscape irrigation controls.

The sales tax holiday also applies to lawn and garden products that help conserve water outdoors. Items qualifying for the exemption include soaker or drip-irrigation hoses; moisture controls for a sprinkler or irrigation system; mulch; and plants, trees and grasses. These items can be purchased tax-free for residential use only.

There's no limit to the number of water-efficient or water-conserving products you can purchase tax-free. For more information on the Water-Efficient Products Sales Tax Holiday, visit the Comptroller's website.

During the ENERGY STAR Sales Tax Holiday, certain energy-efficient products displaying the ENERGY STAR logo can be purchased tax-free, including air conditioners priced at $6,000 or less, refrigerators priced at $2,000 or less, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, dishwashers, dehumidifiers and clothes washing machines.

Visit the Comptroller's website for more ENERGY STAR Sales Tax Holiday details.

Rainfall amounts double statewide average since April 1

From AgriLife Today

COLLEGE STATION – April showers delivered moisture around the state, but so far May has been one for the ages when it comes to rainfall, said the Texas State Climatologist.

Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon said rainfall amounts have been more than double normal, averaging more than 7 inches, due to several lines of storms across the state since April 1. The drought monitor showed all parts of the state had received enough moisture to leave “drought” status, though some areas are still “abnormally dry.”

“We were below normal in some areas for the first few months of 2019, but April showers brought us up to normal for the calendar year,” he said. “In the past 30 days, most of the state received two to four times normal rainfall, and that includes areas like the Pecos River to Northeast Texas.”

The first 12 days of May were among the 10 wettest from west central to north central, central, southeast and northeast Texas, and were the wettest start to May on record for Austin, College Station and Tyler.

Tyler experienced its wettest 12-month period ending May 12 in 105 years, he said, and Dallas experienced its second wettest in 120 years over the same period. Many other areas around the state also recorded some of their highest recorded 12-month rainfall amounts in more than a century during the same time.

Nielsen-Gammon said parts of Far West and South Texas had received less than average precipitation over the past 30 days. Cameron County, for example, has received near-average amounts over the last 90 days, but only one quarter of its average rainfall, while the rest of the state deals with deluges.

Saturated soils, standing water and major flooding have been reported in many parts of the state, according to county reports. Wet conditions have caused delays to fieldwork and crop planting. Flooding has caused crop losses in some areas.

“Most river gauges in East Texas showed at least minor flooding,” he said. “The Brazos and

Trinity rivers reached major flood stages and many areas in Southeast Texas, including Houston and Beaumont, received a lot of rain, 10-20 inches over seven days.”

On the positive side, Nielsen-Gammon said rains were key for  keeping summer temperatures relatively mild.

“The longer the rains persist, the better the outlook for avoiding extreme heat in the summertime,” he said.

Statewide, temperatures have been within a few degrees of normal high and low temperatures, he said. Daytime temperatures were slightly higher and nighttime temperatures were slightly lower on average in the Panhandle and High Plains this spring.

“We’ve gotten used to drier-than-normal Mays, so when we get a wet one it really stands out,” he said.

Irrigation runoff mitigation system patented

COLLEGE STATION – Just as temperatures begin to heat up and lawns begin to seemingly beg for water, Texas A&M AgriLife faculty were recognized at a patent award banquet for their irrigation runoff mitigation system.

With water waste a growing problem nationwide, an interdisciplinary team of engineers, irrigation researchers and turfgrass experts have spent the past two years designing a solution to conserve strained water supplies in municipal landscapes.

Leading the invention were Dr. Ben Wherley, Texas A&M AgriLife Research turfgrass ecologist, and Dr. Jorge Alvarado, Texas A&M University department of engineering technology and industrial distribution professor, both in College Station.

Other team members on the project were Dr. Richard White and Jim Thomas, both retired from Texas A&M’s soil and crop sciences department; Dr. Casey Reynolds, formerly with AgriLife Research; Dr. Fouad Jaber, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service engineering specialist, Dallas; and Dean Tate and Junfeng Men, both former engineering students.

The team’s objective was to design a reliable, durable and low-cost Landscape Irrigation Runoff Mitigation System, or LIRMS, that could minimize irrigation runoff losses from residential or commercial landscapes.

Feedback control systems for automated irrigation systems have been limited to soil moisture sensors, weather-based evapotranspiration controllers and rain sensors, Wherley said. A need existed for a system to control scheduled irrigated delivery based on detected irrigation-water runoff.

“In a series of tests comparing LIRMS-controlled irrigation versus industry standard irrigation practices at our runoff measurement facility, the LIRMS was able to reduce landscape runoff by up to 50% during a typical 1-inch irrigation event,” he said.

LIRMS quickly detects and responds to the early stages of runoff, pausing irrigation and generating an automated cycle soaking through the duration of the allotted run period, thus mitigating significant runoff fluxes, Wherley said.

With LIRMS control during an irrigation event, 30 minutes of irrigation may require a few hours to apply, depending on the potential for runoff in a given landscape, he said.

“However, the result is more water ending up in the soil, and less in the storm sewers,” Alvarado said.

The LIRMS system detects flow of water through a boundary, which may be a curb or the junction of two adjoining properties, he said. A controller is operatively coupled to the irrigation system and the sensor. Responsive to the sensor detecting flow of water through the boundary above a predefined threshold, the controller signals the irrigation system to pause irrigation.

“We know urban and/or municipal water use will continue to represent a significant portion of overall water demand in Texas, especially given the rapid pace of urban growth in the state,” Wherley said. “And while most municipalities prohibit irrigation runoff, enforcing it is a challenge.”

Both Alvarado and Wherley said there is still room for improvement in the system.

“Our future efforts will seek to improve efficiency of the system in terms of recognizing appropriate lengths of pause periods based on ambient soil moisture, soil texture, slope and other factors by using artificial intelligence to simply recognize when soil saturation has been achieved based on the runoff dynamics,” Alvarado said.

“As population growth places greater strains on potable water, we believe LIRMS has enormous potential to help water conservation efforts for communities throughout the country.” Wherley said.

LIRMS is composed of a sensor as well as a controller and these would be installed by a professional irrigation contractor when a new system is installed, or as an add on to an existing irrigation system, he said.

“Since no company has licensed the technology yet, the devices we have now are simply prototypes,” Wherley said. “A professional company might improve the device and make it look completely different than it does now. But our patent covers any type of system that controls irrigation in response to detected runoff.”

The product is available for licensing through Texas A&M’s Technology Commercialization website https://tinyurl.com/y2d3wxhe.

National Garden Month: Mulch can reduce evaporation & save water

April is National Garden Month! High Plains Underground Water Conservation District (HPWD) reminds gardeners that adding mulch to flowerbeds can help save water by reducing the amount of moisture lost to evaporation.

"Few gardening practices are as effective and easy as mulching," says HPWD Education and Outreach Coordinator Katherine Drury. She is also a Texas Master Gardener.

She said a two to four inch layer of mulch can help reduce the amount of moisture that evaporates from the soil. This, in turn, decreases the amount of additional irrigation needed to replace the lost moisture.

"Mulch provides many benefits to a landscape," said Drury. "It reduces soil compaction and erosion, it keeps soils cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and it can help reduce annual weed populations that compete with desired plants for water. In addition, mulch improves a home’s curb appeal by giving the landscape a polished look.

There are two categories of mulch: organic and inorganic. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. The type of mulch you choose depends on your overall garden goals.

A layer of  ORGANIC MULCH  can help reduce the amount of moisture evaporating from the soil.

A layer of ORGANIC MULCH can help reduce the amount of moisture evaporating from the soil.

Organic Mulch

Organic mulch is made from materials derived from living matter that will decompose over time. This type of mulch includes wood chips, bark, leaves, composted cotton burrs, and straw.

These items can be found at local garden stores. However, if you are on a tight budget, some municipalities offer free mulch at their recycling facilities. As these mulches break down, you can till the remnants back into the soil to boost its organic matter content and water holding capacity.

Composted cotton burrs are a favorite for gardeners on the South Plains because it is a locally-produced product. “Gin trash”, or the hulls and stems leftover from the ginning process, can be aged and composted to begin the decomposition process. Composted cotton burrs are excellent at holding moisture.

INORGANIC MULCH  (granite) covers the landscape next to the rainwater harvesting system at the City of Wolfforth Public Library.

INORGANIC MULCH (granite) covers the landscape next to the rainwater harvesting system at the City of Wolfforth Public Library.

Inorganic Mulch

Inorganic mulches are made from materials that do not decompose. These include crushed granite, river or lava rocks, rubber, plastic sheeting, landscape fabric, and even tumbled glass.

Depending on the type, inorganic mulches are effective in reducing soil evaporation and reducing annual weed populations. These types of mulches do not need to be replenished as frequently as organic mulches.

Rocks, crushed granite and tumbled glass are popular ways to decorate a landscape or fill landscape paths. Instead of pouring concrete or other pavement for garden paths, consider using inorganic mulches to allow water to soak into the soil instead of collecting on nonpermeable hardscapes.
As a general rule, maintain a two to four inch layer of mulch year round. Replenish organic mulches every time the garden is replanted or when the mulch layer decomposes by half. If you have a flower bed that tends to flood during rain events, explore heavier or anti-float mulches. Whichever type of mulch you use, make sure not to pile it up around the base of plants or trees.

Legislative Update: HPWD offers testimony regarding legislation

By Victoria Whitehead, HPWD General Counsel

Attorney’s Fees Legislation

Under current statute, a judge is required to award attorney’s fees to a groundwater conservation district (GCD) when a GCD prevails in litigation.  This stands for both general litigation involving a GCD, as well as GCD enforcement actions.  There are no other provisions under Chapter 36, Texas Water Code, for any other party to  recover their attorney’s fees.  

This month, HPWD offered support for two bills that address this inequity:

House Bill 2125 by Representative Burns removes the court’s requirement to grant attorney’s fees to a GCD, and instead makes the award of attorney’s fees discretionary.  While the original legislation had a cap set at $100,000, the Committee Substitute introduced April 2nd, removes the cap.   HB 2125 does not alter the award of attorney’s fees for enforcement actions. 

Senate Bill 851 by Senator Perry would change the current process to allow the prevailing side to seek attorney’s fees from the court.  It further states that the court may grant reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees in an amount that the court considers is equitable and just, but not to exceed $250,000.  For enforcement actions involving a GCD, SB 851 allows the prevailing side to recover attorney’s fees, but does not include a $250,000 cap.   

While many GCDs in the state do not support these efforts, the HPWD Board of Directors firmly believe this legislation is a good balance for all parties, as it removes some barriers that landowners may encounter when they believe a GCD is not adequately protecting their groundwater.

HPWD provided testimony on SB 851.  The testimony provided by General Counsel Victoria Whitehead can be found at 02:10:50: http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=45&clip_id=14092

Appeals Process Legislation

HPWD offered testimony in opposition to Senator Perry’s Senate Bill 2027.  SB 2027 changes the judicial review process of decisions made by a GCD board from substantial evidence review to trial de novo.

Testimony from HPWD focused on the adequacy of current law for contested matters.  The rights of petitioners are well documented in the existing statute, and also allow for the expertise of the locally elected board members.

Senator Perry concluded the hearing by agreeing to push the matter to an interim discussion rather than pursuing the legislative change. 

The testimony provided by General Counsel Victoria Whitehead can be found at 02:01:00: http://tlcsenate.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=45&clip_id=14250

National Garden Month: Incorporate native plants into landscapes to save water

April is National Garden Month! Incorporating native plants in your landscape can provide color and save water at the same time.
“Native plants have adapted to withstand the Panhandle-South Plains climate. Not only are they accustomed to our dry, hot weather -- but native plants are an important component of our regional ecology. They can help support pollinators and other wildlife,” says Education/Outreach Coordinator Katherine Drury with High Plains Underground Water Conservation District in Lubbock. She is also a Texas Master Gardener.
“HPWD would like to share some favorite native plants that are beautiful and have low water requirements,” she said.
American Basketflower is a striking Texas native. This beautiful purple wildflower often blooms along roadways in spring. “Basket flower” refers to the straw-colored bracts beneath the flower head. Although it resembles a thistle, it lacks their prickly characteristics.



Blackfoot Daisy can be found growing during the driest and hottest of years. Local horticulture experts reportedly found a mound of Blackfoot Daisies during the 2011 drought. These little flowers grow in low mounds and are perfect for flower beds.



Chocolate Daisy is native to the southwestern United States and Mexico. Not only is it a beautiful, drought-tolerant perennial, but it actually smells like chocolate!



Prairie Coneflower can be found across Texas. It is a quick and aggressive grower that is easily started from seed. If you are growing these in your garden, allow the plants to go to seed after flowering ceases in Autumn. You can then collect the seeds or mow down the stalks.



Tahoka Daisy is native to the Texas South Plains. It was first discovered in 1898 at Tahoka Lake. The Tahoka Daisy, also called Prairie Aster, is an annual wildflower that prefers sand or gravel soils in full sun.



“These are just a few of the native plants available for local landscapes.  Homeowners should consider using plants that flourish in high temperatures and low rainfall conditions,” says Drury.