Michigan irrigation costs and supplies enhance farm sustainability

Irrigation water costs and availability in Michigan are considerably different than California in 2014.

Because Michigan has an adequate supply of irrigation water that is privately financed, we have avoided the public funding of infrastructure and the battles as to how the water is used which has occurred in California.

At the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers Summer Education week July 13 -17 in Des Moines, Iowa, Brian Hauss, Vice President Asset Management at Westchester Agriculture Asset Management in Fresno, California presented “Water Conveyance, Transfers and Valuation.” He highlighted the effects of drought and other factors on the rising costs and reduced reliability of irrigation water in California. Historically, much of California has been irrigated using runoff water from melting snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that is stored in a series of reservoirs. One of the main water providers for this water is the Central Valley Project. Even prior to the current drought, water deliveries from the project for agriculture had been declining. The project has become controversial and between 1952 and 201l, the delivery of Central Project water had been reduced by 49 percent, as required by various court decisions, among them the Anadromous Fish Restoration Program and the Delta Smelt program. Brian stated that as a result of the ongoing drought, in 2014, the Central Valley Project will provide 0 percent of the normal contract delivery. Without a substitute supply, many acres will go unfarmed due to a lack of irrigation water.

To provide some water, leasing from other projects has been used. The lease rate before pumping costs has ranged from $55 per acre foot to $2,000 per acre foot, with an average of $930/acre foot. When surface supplies are not available, there has been additional reliance on groundwater. Brian stated that it is anticipated that some water wells will draw down the aquifer as much as 100 feet in 2014 and will not recharge during the offseason.

In contrast, Michigan, for the most part is blessed with an abundant, dependable supply of low cost, high quality fresh water. In the Cost of Production of Machine-Harvested Pickling Cucumbers in Michigan, 2010 the power costs to irrigate from irrigation wells in Michigan ranged from $3.16 to $7.50 per acre inch, or $37.92 to $90 per acre foot.

The United States Geological Survey National Water Information System keeps a database of groundwater levels in Michigan. In 2008, they began monitoring 11 water wells in Kalamazoo County. The depth to groundwater in 2008 varied from 4 feet to 38 feet below the soil surface, depending on the well. The data show that static water levels fluctuate during the year, but recover by the beginning of the next year. Not surprisingly, in 2012, during the drought, all of the wells showed more declines than other years, but the static water level almost completely recovered to the 2008 level by the beginning of 2013. In Oceana County, the aquifer is composed of glacial deposits that are medium to coarse (soils containing large quantities of sand). The data indicate that recharge is generally large and irrigation withdrawals from the glacial aquifer are replenished each year during the non-irrigation season. Availability and cost of water for irrigation will vary across the state related to the source and pumping necessary to obtain the water. 

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