AWEP funds provide ways to save water

What a difference a year made for Joel Bergman of Loomis. In 2010, with incentive payments from a water conservation program, Bergman was finally able to convert a gated-pipe-irrigated quarter section to a combination of center-pivot and subsurface drip systems.

Consider these numbers. In a typical year, on either corn or soybeans, Bergman normally applied about 30 acre-inches through the gated pipe on this quarter. But last year, he applied only 4 inches through the pivot and just 3 inches through the SDI system on the soybean crop.

He cites the “unusual year” in 2010, in which plentiful moisture allowed him to wait until early August to turn on either system. “But in most years I think I will be able to get by with 7 to 9 inches at most with SDI and 9 to 10 with the pivot.”

He saved considerably in pumping costs, as well as untold hours of labor needed to move pipe around this difficult-to-irrigate tract of land. The farmstead at Homestead Hill Farms and an adjacent feedlot prevent the pivot from making a full circle, so it irrigates about 100 acres in its three-fourths rotation, while the SDI irrigates 20 acres.

At a glance

Loomis irrigator uses AWEP to install pivot, subsurface drip.

The relatively new program is now available in five areas of the state.

Goal is to save irrigation water and improve water quality.


“I tried previously to get an EQIP [Environmental Quality Incentives Program] contract to help pay for a pivot, but due to the inability to make a full circle, the quarter was ineligible,” Bergman says.

Then, in 2009, along came AWEP, or the Agriculture Water Enhancement Program, a new option for water-saving practices under EQIP. Bergman is a customer of the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, which was approved as one of five project areas in Nebraska in AWEP’s first year.

The district, which provides surface water through canals to customers in Gosper, Kearney and Phelps counties, will receive $1.5 million over five years from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service for AWEP contracts, or $310,000 each year, says Marcia Trompke, Central’s conservation director. Central itself, the Tri-Basin NRD and the farmers, through their share of costs, bring another $2 million in funding.

“Over the five years, our goal is to install 50 new full-circle pivots and 400 acres of subsurface irrigation in the district,” Trompke says, “but that depends on yearly funding.”

Eligible farmers also get a one-time payment for not watering pivot corners for four years, plus a small payment incentive to start no-till if they haven’t used the practice.

Aiding Lake McConaughy

“Every acre-inch we [Central] can save in farm deliveries is water retained in Lake McConaughy,” she says.

For several years, Central has encouraged customers through various incentive programs to install center pivots to pump from canals instead of using less efficient gravity flow to their fields. So far, 346 pivots have been installed.

From his own pocket, Bergman says he paid two-thirds of the cost of the pivot and SDI, with AWEP paying the remainder of the total cost.

“I needed a pivot on this quarter for some time, and probably would have found a way to do it,” he says. “I would not have gone with the SDI system most likely because of cost, but the AWEP program made it possible.”

The system, which consists of drip lines 60 inches apart and 15 inches deep, requires a sand-media filtering system, especially when pulling water from a canal. AWEP did not cost-share on the filtering equipment.

AWEP project areas in Nebraska

AWEP is a program that partners with eligible entities and organizations to save groundwater and surface water. Those organizations then work with farmers to install water conservation practices.

Nebraska has eight AWEP project areas so far — five approved in 2009 for contracts that began in 2010 and three more approved in 2010 for practices that begin this year. Contracts with farmers are for five years.

Practices can differ in each AWEP area.

In addition to the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, the other four first-year AWEP areas are:

Middle Republican NRD (Hayes, Frontier, Hitchcock and Red Willow counties and southern Lincoln County)

Little Blue NRD (portions of Adams, Clay, Nuckolls, Thayer, Fillmore and Jefferson counties)

Lower Big Blue NRD (portions of Saline, Jefferson and Gage counties)

Lower Platte North NRD (portions of Boone, Madison, Platte, Colfax, Butler, Dodge and Saunders counties)

Three project areas were added in 2010: Upper Big Blue NRD, Lower Republican NRD and Platte River Recovery AWEP, consisting of counties in four NRDs — North Platte, South Platte, Twin Platte, Central Platte and Tri-Basin. Unlike the other AWEP areas, this one focuses on converting irrigated land to dryland.

Farmers in these project areas can apply anytime at local NRCS offices, although the next cutoff is Feb. 18.

For sign-up dates and more information, contact the aforementioned NRDs, the NRCS offices in those counties or the state NRCS office at 402-437-4111.

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CUTTING BACK: By qualifying for the AWEP program, Joel Bergman received partial payment on a pivot and subsurface drip system, reducing water applications in both cases from previous years.

This article published in the February, 2011 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.