Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Monday, September 18, 2006

The joys of irrigation

It's been another long summer of battling the flora on the property. A good thing about no rain means that even the weeds don't grow much, but the grass certainly doesn't grow either. We already had a plan to irrigate the horse pastures more this year than last, because we almost over extended them last year, and this year we already had the irrigation plumbing installed. Ah, we didn't count on one more critical element to this plan -- the WATER.

We own a few measly shares of the Ish reservoir just over the road. But this is a low priority reservoir and our shares of it are low priority -- so even if it had any water in it we weren't likely to get any of it -- and in fact the reservoir doesn't have any water so... there you have it.

The spring was so dry that the rivers weren't flowing anywhere near normal levels, so the Water Conservation Board shut down all of the agricultural wells up in our corner of the state. So there were a bunch of farmers who couldn't tap into their own wells to water their crops -- understandably those folks were put on the high priority list for irrigation water... and consequently we who aren't on any priority list what so ever, were not going to be able to get any water this year.

Even our neighbor who has connections with a couple of other ditches thought he wasn't going to be able to get any water either! He owns shares of Ish water as well as Supply water, but neither one of those are running this summer. Something about the fact he also owns shares in the "Howard Lateral" -- a series of ditches that distribute water from main ditches into local distribution ditches -- gives him the ability to get Big T water as well. The Big Thompson is the river that comes down from Estes Park into Loveland. The Big T ditch distribution system is enormous -- I've heard Big T can be distributed all the way down to Colorado Springs! It's very valuable water, because it has water even when nothing else does.

So, in June he finally called us and said the he was able to get some Big T water and he'd reserved 3 extra days for us. Well, the frustrating thing about water is that it just never comes when, where or how fast as you expect it. So we are always at it's mercy.

Sure enough, the water showed up sooner than we thought. Phyllis and the girls were visiting, so they got to be conscripted into helping us move irrigation pipe from Tom's fields into ours. Always a fun prospect.

In an earlier post I mentioned that our farmer friend had dug some cross ditches in our pastures and taught us some of the strategies for irrigating. The problem with our land is that it is so sloped that the water runs off so fast it washes away the surface, and doesn't distribute nicely. By having these cross ditches they can catch the water, distribute it sideways across the contour, and then you dig little outlets in the bottom side to let the water continue on it's way down the field. Sounds easy enough.

We didn't understand that this is a never ending process. We were continually monitoring different sections of the ditch -- daming areas letting too much water through and digging out where not enough was flowing. My niece Sara jumped right in and spent a lot of time out with a hoe. To begin with this was pretty fun. After 2 days of it, not so much fun. But, in the end we decided we'd done a reasonable job watering our south pasture and part of the north pasture -- at least it wasn't ALL running off and pooling in the neighbor's cow pasture like it did last summer!

August came around and Tom was able to get more water, so we signed on for a 5 day run this time. We broke down and purchased some of our own irrigation pipe, so that we were able to have some pipe in place by the time it came to switch the water from Tom's pastures to ours. In all it was going MUCH smoother than ever before. But we did notice that managing the cross-ditches was a signficantly different story this time around!

I guess next year we'll want to spray those ditches before we run water a second time! But then we noticed that the ditch was flowing so fast that it was overflowing that one pasture's inlet -- it was more capacity than could be distributed by that pipe alone. So we had to scramble and hook pipe into another section which would deliver water to the dog yard. By running both of those sections at the same time we were able to put almost all of the water in the ditch to use.

After running water for a day, you can see that we still clearly not distributing water where it needs to go -- but amazingly you can see where the water IS because the grass is already noticeably greener!

This is 2 1/2 weeks later!!! They ain't joking when they say alfalfa is a fast grower.

We just wish the grass in the horse pastures was the same way -- there we are waging a massive battle between watering the weeds vs the grass.



Blogger No Reins said...

Thanks for posting this. My name is Lucian, I'm the writer of Riding Fence, a Brokeback fan fiction. Dean told me about your blog of your WY trip. I loved reading it. I went to Jackson in July myself.

Anyway, I've been doing a lot of research on range management for the next round of my story and irrigation is part of it, so I was interested in your description here. I'd be interested too in your thoughts on weed management. I'm not sure how much of this will actually make it into the stoy, but I'm trying to understand Ennis's world as much as possible. You never know what kind of detail will spark something.
Thanks again

10/29/06, 11:47 PM  

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