Conserving Water One Well at a Time
James Pike, district conservationist for the Cheyenne field office, has tackled an important and thorny issue in Laramie County – water. More specifically, he needed to convince producers that the Ogallala Aquifer needed to be stabilized to prevent further depletion.
“Usually, at NRCS, we are helping to do something that improves a producer’s operation. In this case, we’re asking someone to give something up for the greater good,” he said.
Mike Poelma has seen the handwriting on the wall. “The water is going away. If we don’t do something, the Aquifer will continue to go dry,” he said. He grows wheat on 125 acres, out of his total 155 acres. He recently converted to dryland. With Pike’s help through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP), Poelma hopes his one irrigation well and two smaller wells will eventually recharge. But he knows it’s not an easy fix and will take some time.
Too many wells combined with inefficient irrigation have made water conservation a volatile topic in Wyoming. Laramie County is only one of 10 counties in the entire country to make AWEP work. That required the support of the conservation district, the county commissioners, and the State Engineers.
The result of Pike’s hard work: 1 trillion gallons saved annually or 3,000-acre feet. Also, AWEP has helped save energy that would have gone to growing marginal crops.
Since 2010, AWEP has provided $2 million to producers in Laramie County.
Pike credits the far-sightedness of his producers and the partners. “Groundwater is a touchy subject. At first, I didn’t know how the program will be perceived. Water is a hard thing to give up,” he said.
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