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High Plains To Restrict Water Use

March 22, 2011
By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today Editor

The High Plains Water District service area, which encompasses parts of 16 counties in the Texas panhandle, is proposing to restrict water usage to 1.25 acre feet per contiguously controlled acre per year starting January 1, 2012. There are currently no restrictions, other than common sense and economics, on the amount of water that can be applied. 

The purpose of the cutback is to meet a “50/50 Management Goal” for the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlines the area. The “50/50” nomenclature refers to 50% of the saturated thickness of the aquifer will still be in existence in 50 years.  
A series of five listening sessions will be held starting tomorrow in Hereford to take comments on the proposed rules. The Texas Association of Dairymen (TAD) is recommending the rule be phased in over a three-year, with water usage limited to 20”/acre in 2012, 18” in 2013 and 15” in 2014. The comment period on the proposal ends April 1.
Fifteen acre inches are not enough water to support alfalfa, and it will be barely enough to support corn silage production, says Darren Turley, TAD executive director. Typically, 21” to 22” is considered the minimum for corn, he says. “If you have a center pivot on a section of ground and leave the corners out, you’ll get 18 ¾.” That will get you close to the water you need,” he says.
But he fully expects more drought-tolerant forages, such as brown mid-rib sorghum, to be grown. Recent studies suggest tonnage of sorghum can approach that of corn silage.
Turley also notes that the High Plains region already rails in a lot of corn and ethanol by-products from the Midwest to support it beef feedlots and growing dairy industry. He expects that to continue, if not increase, as well as the continued importation of alfalfa.
The new rules also shouldn’t affect the ability to build new dairies in the region. Although cows consume a lot of water each day, the vast majority of that water is recycled back on to crop land via the effluent.

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