Water for Food

Learning about the Water-Energy-Food nexus in Nebraska

August 26, 2015
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The group in front of Dawson Public Power District’s headquarters.

By Paul Noël, Program Associate

The “water-energy-food nexus” is a hot topic among researchers at the moment. At the Water for Food Institute, we’ve been working with our partners on a variety of projects to understand the connections between water use, energy use, and agricultural production — and how different management approaches impact the human and environmental outcomes of these intersecting areas.

Last week, the institute hosted a three-day workshop called “Advances in Understanding the Water-Energy-Food Nexus for irrigated agriculture.” The workshop was organized by Nick Brozović, director of policy, as part of a research project funded by the USDA and NSF under its Water Sustainability and Climate competition. Participants included junior and senior staff from the Water for Food Institute, and others who participated in the research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Desert Research Institute, Resources for the Future and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

The workshop kicked off with a series of presentations on decision-making in the water-energy-food nexus, integrated approaches to study surface water-groundwater interactions, and empirical approaches for understanding water management. The presentations included empirical studies from the field- to the landscape-level, as well as introducing new theories about decision-making in irrigation. After a discussion synthesizing key themes from the presentations, the group headed west for a day-and-a-half tour in central Nebraska, focusing on water-energy-food challenges and opportunities faced by Nebraska stakeholders.

Our tour started with a visit to the Rowe Sanctuary on the Platte River, where Kent Skaggs explained the challenges of preserving habitat for Sandhill cranes and other wildlife along the river. The Platte River is the most important and concentrated stopover for the nearly half million Sandhill cranes that migrate north every year. We learned how human impacts on land, surface water and groundwater pose multiple threats to this unique location. Later, over dinner, Richael Young of Mammoth Trading talked about the successes and challenges of developing and implementing smart markets for groundwater pumping rights.

On the second day of the tour, the group started at the Dawson Public Power District offices in Lexington. Cole Brodine, the district’s manager of engineering, discussed the obstacles in managing energy use for multiple uses. There was a fascinating discussion between PPD staff and our tour group on the links between water use and energy use in agriculture, the role and importance of collaborations with the Nebraska Water Balance Alliance, and upcoming challenges for the PPD.

We then traveled to the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District in Holdrege, where they kindly provided a great lunch for us. In Holdrege, we were joined by Lori Potter of the Kearney Hub. After lunch, we spent a few hours in the field visiting several innovative irrigation systems within Central NPPID, installed by Central Valley Irrigation. Jeff Buettner from Central NPPID led the tour, together with Monty Vonasek, Jeremiah Johnson, and David Hoferer of Central Valley Irrigation. Between them, they explained both the challenges of NPPID in operating the canal system and the technical challenges of designing irrigation systems for complex applications.

We visited a number of sites, including a subsurface drip irrigation system at Greg Linder Farms, a drop-span center pivot system for an irregular field operated by Scott Ford and his uncle John Ford, and a swing-arm pivot with variable rate irrigation and zone control on one of William Knoerzer’s fields. Next, we met Paul Tipling from McCrometer at a site equipped with telemetry equipment providing nearly realtime data on soil moisture, water flow, and weather to producers. Finally, we visited Johnson No. 1 hydropower plant near Johnson Lake to learn about the power generation aspect of CNPPID’s operations. Lori Potter wrote an excellent story about the tour, which you can read at http://www.kearneyhub.com/news/agriculture/region-s-water-management-key-interest-in-water-for-food/article_77e2f1a0-4889-11e5-ab9e-e7c73628508d.html.

Overall, the trip was a very successful learning experience, and it offered several of the out-of-state participants their first opportunity to learn about Nebraska’s innovative water management institutions and technology on the ground, as well as the chance to experience some great hospitality! On Wednesday, the group was back at the Water for Food Institute. We wrapped up with a planning meeting to discuss future collaborations that would serve the needs of our various stakeholders in Nebraska and elsewhere. Over the coming months and years, we’ll put these new ideas into action to improve our understanding of how water, energy, and food come together in complex and sometimes unexpected ways.

The details!
Workshop attendees included Rosemary Carroll (Desert Research Institute), Yusuke Kuwayama (Resources for the Future), Taro Miero and Karina Schoengold (UNL), Mani Rouhi Rad (University of Illinois), Cameron Speir (NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center), Patricia Song (UC Santa Barbara and Water for Food), Richael Young (Mammoth Trading and Water for Food), and Nick Brozovic, Tim Foster, Rachael Herpel, Jasmine Mausbach, Christopher Neale, Michael Neale, Paul Noël, Isidro Campos Rodriguez (Water for Food).

We’d like to thank everyone that provided their time and expertise so generously to make the from the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, Dawson Public Power District, Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, Central Valley Irrigation, and McCrometer, as well as the producers that we talked with. for making the tour a great learning experience as emphasized by all the participants. Thanks also to Water for Food’s Rachael Herpel, Jasmine Mausbach, and Richael Young for helping to plan and organize the workshop.

The workshop was supported by USDA-NIFA under award 2012-67003-23227.

Jeff Buettner from Central Public Power and Irrigation District and Monty Vonasek, owner of Central Valley Irrigation, explaining the challenges and benefits of subsurface drip irrigation to the group.

Jeff Buettner from Central Public Power and Irrigation District and Monty Vonasek, owner of Central Valley Irrigation, explaining the challenges and benefits of subsurface drip irrigation to the group.

John and Scott Ford describing the operating of a drop-span center-pivot.

John and Scott Ford describing the operating of a drop-span center-pivot.

Jeff Buettner presenting telemetry equipment.

Jeff Buettner presenting telemetry equipment.

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