Skip Navigation

Success Stories - Increasing California’s Water Efficiency & Drought Resiliency

California Conservation Showcase

June 2015

Increasing California’s Water Efficiency and Drought Resiliency

NRCS conservation programs provide support to farmers and ranchers for projects that conserve water, improve water quality, and mitigate the effects of drought and climate change.

The ongoing drought in California has been hard on most farmers and rIncrease_CA_Eff1anchers.

Large PVC pipes like the one buried along the fence shown above help to keep William’s pastures green while saving a lot of water.

But thanks to irrigation improvements agricultural producers have implemented over the last several years through conservation programs of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), many farmers are coping well despite severe water cutbacks. Some are doing as well or even better than they did before the drought.

A good example is Tehama County rancher Sam Williams, who participated in an Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) project in the Anderson Cottonwood Irrigation District (ACID) in 2010. Williams is now saving so much water, due to improved irrigation water efficiency and control, that his fields have stayed lush and green despite 25 percent water curtailments in 2014 and again this year.

Through AWEP, Williams was able to install nearly 6,000 linear feet of PVC pipeline to replace old leaky concrete pipes that supplied irrigation water to 130 acres of pasture and a small orchard. Several water structures were also installed to control flow, and NRCS redesigned his system so it works on the natural grade, increasing water pressure. 

“It’s saving a lot of water,” said Williams. “The new system is much more efficient. It used to take me four days to irrigate everything. Now if I get a good head [pressure] I can do it in 24 hours. I had an old concrete pipeline, and I had leaks out the top, and probably the bottom and sides too. There is gravel four feet down, so there’s no telling how much water was lost. I didn’t dream we’d improve it this much.”

“He was losing a lot of pressure before,” explained NRCS Civil Engineer Technician Moises Lozano. “You start losing head, especially when you are irrigating up stream, and pushing water up a concrete pipe. The mainline used to come down to a box and it had to actually push water up hill. We redesigned it so it works on the natural grade. There’s now a 14-foot fall from the entry.”

Williams says the improvements are giving him better water coverage and are saving him time as well. “I get water all over this place now, Williams said. “Before I could hardly get water to come out of the valve down at the end of the field,” he said, pointing to the end of the buried pipeline. “Now I can control it. I would run six to seven valves the old way. I run 15 now, so I can do a set in about four hours. It used to take me 12 hours.”

Besides the benefit of getting more even irrigations through better control, Williams is saving a significant amount of water. “He would use about 640 acre feet of water per season before the improvements,” said Lozano. “Based on the irrigation design and last year’s irrigation history, we calculate that he only applied 402 acre feet of water last season. That’s a 37 percent water savings—about 78 million gallons of water per year that he was able to save. That’s about the same as 118 Olympic-sized swimming pools.”

Williams said that he has hardly been affected by the drought. “ACID cut our water to 75 percent last year, but I got an irrigation in October—and we usually get two—so the drought didn’t affect me too much. This year seems to be similar.” 

Water efficiency resulting from Williams’ improvements and similar work done by 53 other AWEP participants in Shasta County have helped all of ACID’s customers to weather the drought. It has also saved ACID a lot in pumping costs.

Increase_CA_Eff2“If we didn’t have this piping in, especially with the AWEP program, we would have run out of water much sooner than the end of September last year,” said ACID General Manager Stan Wangberg.

ACID General Manager Stan Wangberg said that improvements implemented by customers through AWEP, as well as improvements carried out by the water district itself, are what made it possible to deliver the water needed by customers despite 25 percent mandatory water cutbacks in 2014 and again in 2015 resulting from the severe drought. 

Between 2010 and 2013, 54 landowners in the ACID service area participated in the AWEP project. Together they installed more than 28,000 feet of pipe and 61 water control structures to improve water efficiency. That was in addition to 12,000 linear feet of pipe and new laterals that ACID installed on its own as part of its system improvement plan.

“The work our customers were able to do with that AWEP funding has really been critical in helping us get through last year, which was our first curtailment in many years and the first one I’ve experienced with a 25 percent supply curtailment,” said Wangberg.

Wangberg said that the improvements had reduced water consumption considerably. “I can’t emphasize enough how much this piping has meant to get through last year with 75 percent of our supply, Wangberg said. “And we’re on track to do that again this year with 75 percent of our normal supply,” he added. “It’s helping to conserve a lot of water.”


 The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides leadership in a partnership effort to help people
conserve, maintain, and improve our natural resources and environment.

An Equal Opportunity Provider and Employer