“By taking advantage of the CRP and AWEP programs to put the bulk of these ponds in trees and water storage structures, we can not only do something that provides benefits for our farming operation, we can also do something to help preserve resources long term.”

Ashland Plantation’s crop breakdown this year is 25 percent cotton, 25 percent soybeans, and 50 percent corn. All the crop land is irrigated, mostly with furrow.

Both water quantity and quality are major concerns in the Delta, says Paul Rodrigue, NRCS water management engineer, who designed the storage facilities for the Browns. He is located at the agency’s Grenada, Miss., office.

“We’ve seen in the Grand Prairie region of Arkansas what can happen to an aquifer as a result of heavy water use for agriculture, and we want to learn from their experience and utilize these federal conservation programs to help preserve this vital resource in the Mississippi Delta.”

Financial assistance programs include AWEP, mostly for water quantity programs; EQIP, which addresses all resource concerns; Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), which addresses both water quantity and quality; and the newest program, Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI), which primarily addresses control of nutrients in lakes, rivers, and streams.

“One option for financial assistance under AWEP is to combine a tailwater recovery system and an on-farm water storage system — basically, take existing ponds and ‘super-size’ them to create a reservoir of recovered water from crops and rain water that can be collected and used for irrigation,” says Rodrigue.

“What the Browns have done with one project is to combine two adjacent ponds, covering 20 acres, by taking out the internal levee, raising the height of the levee, and bringing in the existing drainage channel to feed tailwater into the structure for storage.”

Another converted pond also covers 10 acres, and the Browns are in the design phase for a structure that will be built from the ground up. It’s located in a low-lying area between two ridges and will cover 28 acres.

“The structures are designed with the idea that the water in them will be exhausted by irrigation during the crop season and then will be filled again by March 1 for the next crop year,” Rodrigue explains.

“There will be years like 2009, when a lot of irrigation isn’t needed, and there will be the occasional very dry year, when supplemental well water will be needed. There will also be an occasional year, like 1991, when winter rainfall won’t be enough to fill the structures. But, long-term analysis shows that, in most years, the stored water will be adequate for irrigating the fields for which they’re designed.”