Well water will remain available as backup, but the goal is to reduce groundwater demand for irrigation by 50 percent to 75 percent over the long term.

For row crops, approximately 1 acre foot of water is needed per acre of crop, so the 30-acre structure (8-foot depth) can meet the typical season’s crop water need for 240 acres.

While the upfront capital investment for the storage structures is “fairly large,” by using the stored water first, Rodrigue says, “we calculate that irrigation costs can be reduced by 50 percent over the 15-year amortized lifespan. And since nobody knows what energy costs will be in the years ahead, the savings could be greater.”

For the embankment storage facilities, the typical requirement for construction is for 25,000 cubic yards of earthmoving. Financial assistance under AWEP is $1.50 per cubic yard, and the cost to the farmer is about equal to that. One or two pumps will be required, along with overflow pipes, and an underground line to carry water to the fields for irrigation.

A 10-acre facility typically costs about $70,000, he says, but because the Browns already had ponds and levees in place, the earthwork costs were less.

“These structures allow farmers more control over their water resources, reduce their dependency on pumped water, and take some of the uncertainty out of potential stricter permitting and water use regulations in the future,” Rodrigue notes.

Unfortunately, he says, a lot of those who’re getting out of the catfish business haven’t recognized the opportunity that exists for cost-sharing to convert ponds to water storage.

“While some locations won’t be suitable, a great many hold potential for growers to create structures that can reduce their irrigation costs while helping to reduce demands on the aquifer.

“Water conservation ranks high in all of the NRCS programs, and these programs are gaining popularity as farmers learn about them and the word spreads. Because of the new programs that are becoming available, though, they often aren’t aware of the specific opportunities available to them.”

Continuous sign-ups for these programs are available at NRCS offices, Rodrigue notes, and “we would encourage growers who have an interest in becoming cooperators to go to their local office for further information.”