Irritated by Irrigation?

Hoopa Tribe Receives Funding to Fix Outdated System

By Manuel Sanchez, TRT Staff Reporter

Having to live with an irrigation system that has been around since the 1930s has forced some Hoopa residents to look towards the government for help.

With help from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), 15 organizations will receive funding under the 2008 Farm Bill, and the monies will come through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP). 

The Klamath-Trinity Resource Conservation District (KTRCD), in a partnership with the Hoopa Tribal Public Utilities Department (PUD), applied for and received $638,592 from AWEP to upgrade the existing open ditch system and install meters to monitor leaks and water usage.

The NRCS came to Hoopa on July 30 to meet with the Hoopa Tribal Council and outline what the project will entail. One representative for NRCS said this is one opportunity to see more agriculture interest in the valley, and is a start to provide reliable and dependable water that will make a huge difference for people to see agriculture as a possible opportunity for commercial growth.

NRCS engineer, Ken House, said the project will have a closed pipe conveyance for water users in Mesket and Hostler Field, which will also improve services for Norton field. He said ideally there will be enough pressure at all points for people to run sprinklers, but right now they don’t know if the numbers will fit their vision.

KTRCD District Coordinator, Rhoby Cook, said they started a community planning team a couple of years ago, who were concerned about the valley’s irrigation problems. She said they stayed focused on people’s biggest concern, which was irrigation and water usage.

Hoopa Tribal PUD Director, Barbara Ferris, said once Cook mentioned the opportunity to go after extra funding for their outdated system, she knew they had to at least try.

“It was a competitive grant, but with our old system we had to apply,” Ferris said.

The existing irrigation system is a hodge-podge of open ditches that run throughout the valley floor. The system was put into place by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in 1934, and has never been upgraded.

Cook said the old system was state-of-the-art for the time, but that time has passed. Ferris said they included the history of the existing system into the grant application, which helped them receive their funding.

Ferris said they will retrofit the existing system and are thinking about expanding the system. She said their in-kind match for the grant includes offering their engineer, Frank Masten, and staff to create the outline for the plan.

The plan will be implemented in phases. Right now, PUD is looking into how they will be able to pressurize the new system. House and Frank Masten will be working together to find ways to pressurize the system. Hoopa Tribal Councilman, Joe LeMieux, said “good luck” on that venture.

“If this does work, we’ll add outlets to each parcel,” Ferris said. “This way it will run down the fields in lateral access points.”

Ferris said it prevents people from having total access to the new system. She said people used to put boards into the open ditches and force the water to go their way, or dig ditches so deep the water will not be able to fill up, thus making it unavailable to everyone in need.

Ferris said the irrigation falls under their jurisdiction with $47,000 a year set aside for maintenance. But it becomes difficult to dedicate a lot of attention to irrigation, when they have to handle projects across the board. She said KTRCD will be a great asset for PUD. KTRCD will educate everyone on how to cut back their water usage, to get the most out of a limited water supply.

“I’m real excited about this new partnership,” Ferris said. “We can’t go wrong and now we can bring justice to irrigation.”

Ferris said water conservation is needed, especially in this time of limited rain-fall. She said the creeks they have used for water usage has dwindle down over the years and its time to find new ways to conserve.

Cook said water conservation is just using what people need without over watering and wasting water for frivolous projects. She said no one is saying don’t use water, just use it wisely.

Ferris said the local community has been spoiled with water usage, stating the average per household consumption of water is around 9,000 gallons monthly, with the average per household in most towns around 3,000.

“It is frightening to see our water dissipating,” Ferris said. 

Cook said there are easy tips to conserve water. She said people should water more during the early morning and evening, so the water doesn’t evaporate from the sun.

Cook said people can rip up cardboard, weeds from their gardens and place them around their plants. She said this helps bring the right kind of insects to the soil, and provides a barrier for the water to protected from the summer sun.

Ferris said her department will only be dealing with the source (I.E. where to get water, etc.) whereas the KTRCD will be working with individuals to get the most out of the water being provided. KTRCD is also available to help people with proper gardening habits.

“Conservation saves work, time and money for families,” Cook said.

For more information on the irrigation project, contact Barbara Ferris at (530) 625-4543.

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