July 28: Irrigation Technology & Ecosystem-level Restoration

Futuristic Farming: High-tech Solutions to Old-School Problems

Headgates, Old Model: A rancher drives out a two-track, cranks open the headgate and lets the water flow until it’s time to drive back out there and shut it down. It’s a time-consuming process in a world where time is at a premium, which means that often headgates are left open when they don’t really need to be. Headgates, New Model: Automated, (sometimes even) solar-poweredheadgates can adjust to demand in real time, providing water when it’s needed and shutting down when it’s not. The increased efficiency, paired with precision farming practices, leaves more water in the river. That improves habitat and can also pay off in rebates to water districts for acre-feet not used.

Grouse-plus: How Wet Meadows Enhance River Health

Past land use practices have promoted erosion and degraded wet meadows and riparian areas across the Upper Colorado basin. These habitats are critical to threatened Gunnison sage-grouse and many other species, but an effort to restore them provides much broader ecosystem benefits, especially to the region’s rivers. They serve as natural sponges that hold water in the soil, slowly releasing it after runoff events, ensuring continued base flows and maintenance of water tables throughout the growing season. Fellows had a chance to roll up their sleeves to move some rocks and form a dam that next spring will turn an eroded gully into a soaking, percolating grouse nursery!