With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:
Cameron Turner is the team lead for Agricultural Water Conservation Programs at the Texas Water Development Board. His duties include managing the Agricultural Grants Program, the annual irrigation estimates process and providing outreach and education to the public. Cameron earned a degree in agricultural economics with a focus on farm and ranch management at Texas A&M University. The Texas Water Development Board 2015 Agricultural Water Conservation Grants application closes today. The grant will disperse $1,490,000 from the Agricultural Water Conservation Fund to selected ground water districts to support metering projects.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Water: Are you expecting many applicants or have you all worked to recruit water districts to apply?
Cameron Turner: We definitely promote it to the groundwater districts. This funding is limited to groundwater conservation districts, with rules requiring metering. It is kind of a subset of the groundwater conservation districts, because not all districts have metering requirements. That came about through Senate Bill 1, rider 25, during the previous legislative session. It was very specific in the eligible use of that money. We have been promoting it to the groundwater districts in general, and also reaching out to some of those that have rules and make them look eligible and encourage them to apply for the funding.
In terms of what we are expecting, we never really know until the deadline who will apply. I’ve talked to about four or five that are looking at the opportunity, and some we have worked with in the past, with similar metering grants. We are hoping that we can obligate all the remaining funds, but we are not exactly sure until we have all applications in and can review to see the districts are eligible. I expect we will obligate a decent portion of the remaining funds, if not all. It is just depends how many districts do end up applying.
Trib+Water: What are the chances the funds will go to one main project, or multiple projects?
Turner: This is the second round of funding, we did the first round during the previous fiscal year. We made the first $1.5 million available. We actually did an interim round there, which is why we don’t have a full $1.5 million, we obligated one additional meter project.
We rank it based upon the strength of their application. Then we will make that recommendation to the board, prioritize based on the one with the highest justified need, for the meters, and based on what their request is. It depends on how much each of those applicants request in terms of how the money gets spread around.
During the previous go around, the recommendation was to give it all to one applicant. And the board actually went a different route and decided to spread the money across all the applicants that applied. So it is up to the board, if they take the staff’s recommendation, or prefer to spread the money differently. I don’t expect we will have any applicant asking for the full amount. Most likely we will be spreading it amongst a handful of applicants.
Trib+Water: What justifies a need that you would prioritize from a groundwater district?
Turner: This funding comes through our Agricultural Water Conservation Fund. Money appropriated out of general revenue goes through the fund. It is limited to meters on irrigation wells, essentially. We have the ability to prioritize based on justification for the number of meters, related to the number of irrigation wells within a district.
We put in another justification based on recent increases in groundwater drilling activity. If there are a lot of new wells being drilled, then some of those districts might receive priority. We are trying to get the biggest bang for our buck. We will obligate the funds for the districts that have the biggest need for that funding, so those with the largest number of irrigation well within their territory.
Trib+Water: What is the anticipated impact of putting in these meters?
Turner: Meters are still a little bit of a four letter word with some of the producers in the state. But those that have adopted the technology see the benefit in having the meter on their system because they are able to get that real time water use information from their wells. They can see what their wells are pumping and then they can use that information to improve upon their irrigation system efficiency. They can take that flow rate from their meter and they can look at what they’ve got on their center pivot applications, looking at the different novel packages that they have on their center pivot and see how that matches with their flow rate.
It helps them in making sure they have their system set up most efficiently for the water that they are getting out of the well. They are also able to use the information to help them with scheduling their irrigation over the irrigation season.