Due to the Drought, Farming, Irrigation & Groundwater Wells Are Forever Linked

By Gary L. Hix, CWD/PI, RG, CPG

The link between drought, farming, irrigation and groundwater wells was clearly illustrated when the Irrigation Association and the National Ground Water Association partnered in December of 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada, for the co-location of the Irrigation Show and Education Conference and National Groundwater Week. The synergy was explosive as these two associations mingled, shared their recent experiences and demonstrated their respective advances in technology toward improving efficiencies in both industries. Necessity breeds invention and adaption to new standards, and this was apparent as both industries demonstrated their latest wares.

Nowhere, perhaps, has the drought had a greater impact nationally than in the Central Valley of California where agriculture and the nation’s food supply are strongly linked. So much of the nation’s food supply comes from the Central Valley of California, and the drought has had a major effect. When available surface water was limited or cut back completely because of the drought, groundwater was needed to irrigate the crops. Access to groundwater is only possible through water wells, hence the link.

24 Irrigation TODAY | April 2017

Switching From Surface to Ground

It became apparent early on that in order to continue producing America’s food, many farmers were going to have to switch from irrigating with surface water to irrigating with groundwater. For some farmers, this meant getting water from new wells. This created a demand for qualified well drillers that exceeded the current supply in some areas, so well drillers from other states moved their equipment into California and began drilling wells for farmers. A boom for the drilling industry was generated by the drought.

For a short while, it was a frenzy of getting permits, setting up to drill, drilling and making a well, and moving on to the next well site or farm to repeat the process. Many farmers were then capable of continuing to grow their crops using groundwater. However, this resource is not in infinite supply either, and drought can drastically impact the recharge and availability locally of this resource. Too many wells pumping too close together lowers the water table, which means that some pumps have to be lowered and wells have to be deepened, rehabilitated

or replaced. Groundwater sustains the flow of rivers and streams where wildlife exists; extensive pumping adversely impacts these treasures, as well. It became apparent that doing more with less was needed in both areas.

Responding to the Issues

In response, water well contractors found better and quicker ways to drill wells. Hydraulic-powered drill pipe-handling equipment led to quicker and safer trips in and out of the borehole, perhaps with fewer employees. Innovations and improvements in drill bit design led to cleaner and faster drilling in many formations. Improvements were made in well casings and connections and in screen designs where pre-packed filtration shortened a critical portion of well construction. There were advances in the

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