BOISE-- Could farmers prevent harm to the Boise river by upgrading their irrigation equipment? Is there a way to make that upgrade affordable? A group of local researchers hopes to answer all of those questions.
Experts at the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) say chemicals and sediments washed into the Boise River as part of farming irrigation have been shown to hurt aquatic wildlife, including native trout and salmon populations. What's more, according to the NRCS, if something isn't done to conserve the water, the damage will continue to happen much faster.
Bob McKellip agrees.
McKellip owns a sod and mint farm just outside of Nampa. Since much of his land eventually drains to the Boise River, McKellip applied for a special grant from the Lower Boise Watershed Council in 2011. The grant matches partial costs for equipment that reduces waste from entering the water system. With the grant, he's converted part of his farm to a drip irrigation system.
I think environmentally, we have to figure out how to use less water, McKellip told KTVB. We have to use less fertilizer. Cost-wise it's something -- our margins keep getting thinner and thinner all the time, so we have to be more efficient all the time.
James Eller researches water conservation at the Idaho NRCSoffice. He says phosphorous pollution from operations similar to McKellip's is one of the biggest problems for the Boise River.
Phosphorous basically causes some environmental problems for aquatic wildlife, it causes what we call algae blooms or eutrophication, and it reduces the oxygen content in the water which affects aquatic wildlife, said Eller.
What's more: Eller says the problems can take a toll on native fish populations, and make them unsafe to eat.
A drip irrigation system on McKellip's farm near Nampa
But how to address that problem?
Eller says his office encourages farmers to install drip irrigation systems similar to McKellip's that allow growers to apply water and chemicals closer to plant roots while also eliminating excess runoff. He says the drip system uses less water, and prevents sediment build up which can damage wildlife habitats.
McKellip says there's an added benefit to the new system -- it requires a lot less labor.
I think that over several years we'll see the cost savings and its kind of like a seed you know and if it works well, I think you'll see more and more of me and other farmers using this type of set up.
Members of the Lower Boise Watershed Council agree.
The non-profit group is also working to help fund drip irrigation programs through the NRCS. The council encourages farmers to switch to cleaner and more efficient methods of irrigation.
You can find more information on the various forms of grants offered to Treasure Valley farmers by visiting the NRCSgrant page here.