Harlingen Irrigation District
With the reputation of being a grower’s paradise, the Rio Grande Valley has boasted agriculture as its leading economic boon for the past 100 years. While agriculture retains its top spot as the Valley’s staple industry, farmland is quickly being replaced with suburban and commercial development. The loss of land in this southernmost tip of Texas, combined with competing demands for water from industries and municipalities, means irrigation districts and agricultural producers must convey and use water more efficiently. The Harlingen Irrigation District–Cameron County No. 1 (Irrigation District) is meeting this challenge head-on and helping others in the Valley do the same.
In looking for more efficient ways to irrigate crops, the Irrigation District secured a 10-year grant in 2004 to manage the Agricultural Water Conservation Demonstration Initiative Program (ADI Program) in the Valley. The ADI Program aims to promote water conservation throughout Texas to help meet future water demands while maintaining or increasing farm profitability.
The Irrigation District’s program has succeeded in recruiting dozens of local farmers willing to test new technologies and irrigation methods on a wide variety of crops, including cotton, corn, grain sorghum, sugarcane, citrus, and vegetables. As participating farmers learn that they may have the same crop yields—or better— using less water, the Irrigation District hopes more farmers will begin using the same techniques.
The Irrigation District also built the state’s first Flow Meter Calibration Center, where other irrigation districts can test and calibrate equipment to more accurately measure water usage by farmers and learn proper procedures for determining the validity of meter readings.
In addition to ADI Program efforts, the Irrigation District installed different types of automatic meters throughout its 250-mile irrigation system and tied them into a telemetry system that reports water pumping and water flows on its website in real time. It is a valuable tool for allowing the district to assess water usage and operate more efficiently, as well as an opportunity for farmers to obtain data that assist them with determining current watering needs.
In 2010, the Irrigation District sponsored an inaugural Texas Irrigation Expo as a forum for promoting water conservation and sharing lessons learned from the first five years of the ADI Program with farmers, irrigation districts, and groundwater conservation districts across the state. Nearly 60 private companies, nonprofits, and governmental agencies exhibited information about programs, products, and services that help conserve water. Attendees benefited from presentations by expert speakers and tours of demonstration sites currently using water conservation tools and techniques on their farms.