Tips to help customers step up their water efficiency programs

Water utilities can’t seem to catch a break: The need to improve aging infrastructure has pushed water rates up in many parts of the country, while increasingly unpredictable weather patterns make conserving water more important than ever. Agencies that own their own treatment plants also have to be conscious of the wear and tear on aging equipment, as well as the cost of power for processing operations.Vector illustration of water tap with the Earth globe inside water drop on blue background

Strong customer relationships can be instrumental in working through such challenging times. Unfortunately, frustrated customers—especially large key accounts—who haven’t seen their water bills go down after installing low-flow fixtures may be feeling less than cooperative. The October issue of FacilitiesNet magazine You are leaving WAPA.gov. suggests 10 measures that can help customers take water efficiency to the next level. Use these recommendations to open dialogue with your biggest water users, educate them on the challenges you face and build the bridges that will help you find solutions.

1. Equipment upgrades – New equipment is almost always more efficient than older models, especially when equipment is nearing the end of its useful life. Businesses with commercial kitchens or laundries can see significant water and energy savings by investing in new dish and clothes washers. Replacing water-cooled chillers with air-cooled units and adding water recirculating systems where the hot water source is more than 100 feet from the fixture are other measures worth considering.

2. Leak detection – According to New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, even a small toilet leak can waste 30 gallons daily at a cost of forty cents every day, and the statistics only get more alarming from there. A one-gallon-per-minute leak equals 1,140 gallons per day, which can run up a huge water bill even where local water rates are low. Given that many small leaks can be fixed quickly and inexpensively, leak detection is worth the constant vigilance it requires. It also pays to educate building occupants to be aware of leaking fixtures and mysterious dripping and running sounds, which leads to the next tip.

3. Staff/occupant training – The maintenance crew cannot be everywhere, especially in large buildings and campuses. Facility managers need to recruit housekeeping and other staff to alert building operators to plumbing leaks so problems can be addressed quickly. Make sure all staff knows who to call when they see a leak. A simple sign in restrooms and break rooms, for example, can tell building occupants who to contact when they notice a dripping faucet or running toilet. One school district trained its janitorial staff and vice principals to report all water leaks by calling a specific number, and saved $700,000 in utility bills in the first year of the program.

4. Metering and sub-metering – As the old saying goes, you can’t control what you don’t measure. Water metering and sub-metering can help in tracking water consumption and leak detection in both new and existing buildings. Ideally, water sub-metering could provide valuable input on cooling tower, irrigation and hot water use.

The article suggests that water metering is most effective when incorporated into the building management system so that the data is reported with other facility data. Keep in mind that many irrigation systems use proprietary protocols so you may need a communications interface, which will add to the total metering cost.

At least one water metering company markets a smart meter using a wireless mesh open radio protocol and battery-operated water sub-meters that report their data to plugged-in transceivers. These low cost installations are practical for existing buildings as well as for new construction.

5. Water audits – Water audits will help facility managers determine what next steps to take and in what order. Keep in mind, however, that water audits are a new practice and don’t have a standard protocol like energy audits. For a good starting point, check out South Florida Water Management District’s Water Efficiency and Self-Conducted Water Audits at Commercial and Institutional Facilities: A Guide for Facility ManagersYou are leaving WAPA.gov.

6. Benchmarking sustainability goals – Use the water audit to help establish where water is being used in a facility and benchmark sustainability goals. Software platforms are available that automatically import utility bills and then measure and benchmark the facility’s performance against your goals.

7. Cooling tower maintenance – Cooling towers are generally part of the HVAC system in large buildings of more than 10,000 square feet. HVAC water use can account for more than a quarter of the total water use in institutional buildings, according San Jose Environmental Services Department data. Facility managers should prioritize keeping cooling towers clean and minimizing scale buildup.

8. Irrigation systems – A range of options is available for improving both new and existing irrigation systems. For new installations, drip irrigation uses significantly less water than traditional sprinkler systems. And don’t forget to use native and low-moisture plants when landscaping.Incorporating smart controls that respond to weather events and soil moisture sensors can make existing systems more efficient. The City of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, decided to convert several athletic fields in 2008 to an irrigation controller with soil moisture sensors. By 2010, water use was reduced by 8 million gallons, saving the city $29,000.

9. Rainwater capture – If you are willing to do the research with local water, environmental or development bureaus, harvesting rainwater for irrigation is an excellent alternative to using municipal water. Rainwater could also be used in new construction for some indoor uses like flushing toilets. In all cases, be sure to check your municipal codes regarding the reuse of rainwater.

10. Graywater/reclaimed water use – The California Uniform Plumbing Code You are leaving WAPA.gov. defines graywater as “untreated waste water which has not come into contact with toilet waste.” It can be used for irrigation or non-potable building uses such as flushing toilets and urinals, but graywater’s acceptance is regulated by state and local governments. Each has its own definition of what constitutes graywater and what, if anything, it can be used for. Where water recycling is permitted by local authorities, reclaimed water is being put to good use for landscape irrigation, toilets and urinals.

Source: Facilitiesnet via RCM News, October 2017

Take steps to improve commercial customer irrigation efficiency

It is the height of irrigation season and everyone is struggling to keep their greenery green. While tips for water conservation often focus on residential lawns or agricultural crops, commercial landscaping offers significant opportunities to save water and reduce utility bills. For municipalities and multi-service utilities, helping these customers improve irrigation efficiency can yield benefits for both consumers and providers.

According to an article in Buildings, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a facility management trade publication, inefficient irrigation methods and systems can waste up to 50 percent of the water they consume. That quickly adds up to a painful water bill for your commercial customers and puts pressure on local water supplies and treatment systems. Share these tips to help facility managers at office parks, golf courses and other public green spaces get control of their irrigation practices.

Take care of your system
Failing to maintain irrigation systems may be the biggest factor leading to massive water waste.

Watering sidewalks is a big waste of water that can be prevented by periodically tuning up an irrigation system.

Watering sidewalks is a big waste of water that can be prevented by periodically tuning up an irrigation system.

One of the reasons for this neglect is that maintenance staffs often lack experience with irrigations systems. For example, when systems break down, they may attempt to make repairs with whatever equipment they can find, not understanding that every sprinkler waters differently. A replacement sprinkler head that does not work properly with the remaining original heads could affect the efficiency of the entire system.

Even working systems need a tuneup from time to time by someone who knows about irrigation. Something as simple as routine landscaping tasks can accidentally redirect a sprinkler head. Watering areas that don’t need it—like sidewalks and pavements near landscaping—can waste enormous amounts of water.

Choose your method
The critical question of which type of sprinkler technology to install–drip or overhead–is best answered in the system design phase. The two main types of irrigation systems each have their own set of pros and cons, many depending on the specific area to be watered.

The drip method of irrigation provides a steadier flow of water that goes directly into the soil, and can reduce water use by as much as 20 percent compared to an overhead sprinkler system. The down side of drip irrigation is that it is susceptible to breaking, and requires a higher quality of water. If you don’t have an in-house irrigation specialist, this may not be a good choice for your facility.

Overhead systems—more traditional sprinklers that spray water above the targeted plants—are likely to be less efficient with water use, but they require less maintenance. This method is suitable for larger lawn spaces, whereas a drip system might be more appropriate for localized shrubs and flowers.

Control, schedule watering
Setting a schedule for your system’s operation over time is vital to reducing water use and will have a big impact on conservation efforts.

The article states that a common mistake is turning on the irrigation system in the spring and keeping the same watering schedule until it is shut off for the winter. Plants generally need less water in May or October than they do in the middle of summer. Adjusting the schedule throughout watering season can not only reduce water waste, it can improve the look and health of the plants.

Big water savings can come from replacing a simple timer with a smart controller that determines watering schedules based on climate or soil moisture. However, educating staff members is critical to getting optimum results from a smart controller. Otherwise, your crew is likely to revert to a time-based schedule because it is easier to understand and gives them more control.

Try xeriscaping
Landscaping with native and drought-resistant plants is another proactive strategy for reducing water consumption. But unlike switching to a new type of sprinkler system, this change is relatively cheap and easy and offers a lot of flexibility.

Using native and drought-resistant plants can drastically reduce the amount of water required to maintain landscaping.

Using native and drought-resistant plants can drastically reduce the amount of water required to maintain landscaping.

The Environmental Protection Agency did a case study on a Texas shopping mall that coupled xeriscaping with changes to its irrigation system to reduce its water use by 60 percent. The Village at Stone Oak in San Antonio saved nearly 14 million gallons of water annually by converting around 50,000 square feet of turf grass to xeriscape and modifying almost 85,000 square feet of its irrigation system.

Utilities in the West have become increasingly aware that combining energy and water conservation efforts often improve the results of both. Feel free to share your ideas for taking customer programs out of silos and getting a bigger bang for your programming buck.

Source: Buildings via RCM Newsletter, 7/31/17

Irrigation workshop keeps ag customers informed, prepared

Having information available about future operating costs, supplies and regulations help business owners make sound decisions for the coming months and years. Utilities that provide such critical information form stronger relationships with their customers, which is why High West EnergyYou are leaving Western's site. hosted an irrigation workshop on Jan. 27 at its Pine Bluff, Wyoming, headquarters.

High West Energy hosts a workshop for agriculture customers every couple of years to keep the lines of communication open with their large customers. (Photo by High West Energy)

High West Energy hosts a workshop for agriculture customers every couple of years to keep the lines of communication open with their large customers. (Photo by High West Energy)

Irrigators are among the electric cooperative’s biggest consumers and High West considers it good practice to acknowledge that customer segment and keep the lines of communication open. “We like to get irrigators together every couple of years to share new technology developments and discuss changes on the horizon to help them prepare accordingly,” said High West Public Relations and Marketing Manager Lorrell Walter.

Around 25 attendees—primarily small growers but with a significant number of agribusiness producers—turned out for a look into the crystal ball. “They got a lot of tough news this year,” acknowledged Walter, “but they appreciate knowing ahead of time, so they can plan for it.”

The tough news included rate increases anticipated for the next three years, water restrictions affecting both Wyoming and Nebraska and a low futures market. “Basically, the worst possible combination,” said High West Energy Management Advisor Joy Manning, who helped organize the workshop.

Facing, tackling challenges
Some presentations clarified the situation the growers faced, while others explored assistance available to help cope with it. Speakers from the South Platte Natural Resources DistrictYou are leaving Western's site. and Wyoming State Engineer’s OfficeYou are leaving Western's site. focused on drought conditions and new state well water regulations. The outlook for grain markets in 2016 was the topic of a presentation by a representative from Platte Valley Bank.

The workshop covered not only challenges, but solutions too. Attendees learned about strategies for dealing with climate variability and integrating photovoltaics with irrigation equipment from the University of Wyoming School of EngineeringYou are leaving Western's site. and Extension. The Department of Agriculture Rural Energy for America Program discussed loans and grants it offers for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements.

Utilities join conversation
Because water and energy use are intertwined, wholesale power providers had a place on the agenda, too. Tri-State Generation and Transmission AssociationYou are leaving Western's site. was on hand to update attendees on the G&T’s efforts to comply with the Clean Power Program and other activities. Tri-State Relationship Manager Gary Myers gave an overview of the 2016 Energy Efficiency Products Program.

Western Energy Services Representative Annette Meredith and Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann gave a short presentation on what Western is doing to support High West and its other customers. Although Western works with utilities rather than end-users, Energy Services can play a role in consumer education, noted Meredith. “Helping our customers’ customers to understand where some of their power comes from, and how electricity and water are so closely linked in the West, can help bolster efficiency programs,” she explained.

The workshop appeared to achieve that goal, observed Manning, in spite of sobering news. “The feedback was very positive,” she said. “They particularly appreciated that the information didn’t just touch on one aspect of irrigation.”

Partnering to reach customers
Getting input from many different sources is the secret to a good workshop, Walter said. “If I was going to give other utilities one piece of advice on putting together a workshop, I would tell them, ‘Don’t try to do it on your own,’” she said. “Even though I have an agricultural background, I couldn’t keep up with the hot topics.”

As the issues get more complex, pre-event research becomes more important. High West board members are a source of topics based on the concerns they hear from customers. Tri-State, High West’s wholesale provider, has helped organize past workshops. And if you find a good speaker, Walter advises, “Invite them back! Get that information out there.”

Meredith, who joined Energy Services a little over a year ago, also pitched in this time. “She really helped pull things together,” Manning added.

“Partnerships among several stakeholders are key for successful energy efficiency efforts,” said Meredith.

If your utility would like assistance in hosting a workshop for your members or customers, contact your Energy Services Representative or the Energy Services manager.

Learn about irrigation strategies for West Coast growers

West Coast Irrigation Efficiency
Sept. 28, 2015
1 p.m. MDTCA-irrigation

Agricultural growers are more concerned than ever about increasing both water and energy efficiency in addition to improving crop yield and quality. Knowing when, where and how much to water can improve a grower’s bottom line in good times, and save the business in an ongoing drought such as California is experiencing. Join Western Area Power Administration on Sept. 28 for a free webinar You are leaving Western's site. focusing on technology and best practices in precision irrigation for West Coast agricultural customers.

Changes in irrigation technology over the last two decades have helped farmers in the Golden State make impressive reductions in water use. For example, the Almond Board of California You are leaving Western's site. claims that using drip irrigation has reduced the amount of water it takes to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent.

However, achieving this kind of success requires an understanding of smart controls and monitoring tools, as well as data on crops, soil, weather, topography and more. Irrigation districts, water utilities and municipalities are challenged to persuade agricultural customers that relearning everything they know about irrigation is worth the effort, and to connect growers with the experts who can help them.

West Coast Irrigation Efficiency features presentations on emerging technologies for precision irrigation. Speakers with expertise on both drip and pivot irritation systems will discuss how to turn a mountain of raw data into an actionable plan and design for an irrigation system.

Brian Bassett is founder of H2O OptimizerYou are leaving Western's site. a company that provides data- and technology-driven strategies to maximize returns in production agriculture. The company has been working with the Fresno Water, Energy and Technology Center You are leaving Western's site. to improve drip irrigation technology.

As the Agricultural Technical Lead for Bonneville Power Administration, Tom Osborn has developed programs and tools to help Northwestern growers improve water and energy efficiency. His areas of specialization include scientific irrigation scheduling and irrigation system testing and performance.

Presentations will offer examples of successful irrigation efficiency programs, along with contacts for participants who wish to learn more. A Q&A period will follow the speakers.

Western encourages growers, utilities, irrigation consultants, researchers and policy makers to attend West Coast Irrigation Efficiency. There is no cost to participate in the webinar, but registration is required.

Source: Washington State University Energy Extension, 9/14/15

Rural customers develop efficiency, renewable projects with REAP funds

The June 30 deadline is approaching for the final round of grants and guaranteed loan financing from the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

REAP funding helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchase and install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements. Western customers are among the electric cooperatives, communities and businesses that have benefited from the program.

Making difference in Midwest
Agricultural communities in the Midwest face many economic challenges in spite of the region generally enjoying low-cost power. Since the program’s inception in 2002, REAP has contributed to the economic health of this part of the country by helping farmers and small businesses reduce operating expenses. Rural electric cooperatives have used REAP funding to diversify their resource portfolios.

Nobles Cooperative Electric You are leaving WAPA.gov. in Worthington, Minnesota, was an early REAP recipient. When the state legislature began considering a statewide renewable electricity standard, the co-op applied for a grant to install a utility-scale wind turbine in its territory. In addition to the $500,000 REAP grant, Nobels received $2.5 million through Clean Renewable Energy Bonds from the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CFC) to fund renewable energy projects. General Manager Richard Burud noted that the CFC and USDA assistance made the difference between doing the project and not doing the project.

Increasing irrigation efficiency
In the dry western farming region of all-public power Nebraska, growers rely on irrigation systems that use great quantities of both water and energy.  Many irrigation systems are powered by diesel engines, which have high carbon emissions and expose farmers to volatile fuel costs. Nebraska Public Power DistrictYou are leaving WAPA.gov. one of the state’s largest electric providers , teamed up with USDA Rural Development staff in 2004 to help more than 200 farmers receive REAP (then called Section 9006) grants to replace diesel or propane-fueled irrigation motors with electric motors.

NPPD helped agricultural customers in western Nebraska apply for USDA REAP funds to convert their irrigation pumps from diesel motors to efficient electric motors. Electric pumping systems are also more compatible with remote management technology. (Photo by Nebraska USDA Rural Development Office)

NPPD helped agricultural customers in western Nebraska apply for USDA REAP funds to convert their irrigation pumps from diesel motors to efficient electric motors. Electric pumping systems are also more compatible with remote management technology. (Photo by Nebraska USDA Rural Development Office)

Close cooperation was critical to the program’s success. Rural Development did extensive outreach to growers, focusing on irrigation projects, while NPPD staff conducted the energy assessments needed to apply for the grants. “We continue to support REAP projects by doing energy audits for applicants,” explained NPPD Energy Efficiency Consultant Ron Rose. “Audits performed by a certified energy manager earn more points for the applicant in the USDA scoring process.”

The farmers did their part too, working through the application process to receive grants that averaged around $7,000 per system. “The grants don’t pay for the whole project, but they lower the payback period considerably,” acknowledged Rose.

Given the fuel prices at the time, farmers were able to save as much as 30 percent of their irrigation energy costs by converting from diesel to electric. Rose noted that even though fuel prices have dropped, the electric pumping systems are still popular because remote management technology works better with electric equipment. “The farmers are able to control irrigation from their smart phones or tablets,” he said.

Helping customers helps utility
The REAP project stabilized energy cost for the applicants, gave them greater control over their systems and has encouraged some growers to move to solar powered pumps. Investing in energy efficiency can increase the income for a farm or business, and buying and installing new equipment creates economic activity in the community.

An economically healthier community is always good for a public-power utility. More directly, moving some of its larger customers from fossil fuel to electric power adds to NPPD’s customer base. Other REAP projects, such as solar grain dryers and building envelope upgrades for small businesses, promise future benefits for peak load control while keeping the local economy strong.

Rose urges customers to contact their local USDA Rural Development offices You are leaving WAPA.gov. to get their applications as soon as possible. Power providers may help support applications by providing energy audits. Also, keep in mind that REAP is a grant rather than a rebate, advises Rose. “Complete the application before you start the project.”

Irrigation workshop introduces water apps for growers

Western teamed up with Nebraska Public Power District  Redirecting to a non-government site (NPPD), the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Clean Energy Ambassadors  Redirecting to a non-government site and Central Platte Natural Resource District  Redirecting to a non-government site last November to present an irrigation workshop for agriculture energy customers of NPPD members.

REAP Irrigation Energy Cost Savings: From Testing Your Pumps to Financing and Completing the Project offered an overview of load management and efficiency opportunities; the REAP program, including eligible projects and application guidelines; and a case study on a solar pumping system. Participants learned about REAP success stories and utility incentives, met equipment vendors and watched NPPD Energy Consultant Ronald Rose, Kelley Messenger of the USDA and Equipment Loan Manager Gary Hoffmann demonstrate pump testing methods.

Troy Ingram, of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, (UNL) introduced two new mobile apps the UNL Extension program  Redirecting to a non-government site developed to help growers manage their irrigation systems. Utilities and their agriculture customers can benefit from these easy-to-use tools, even if they were unable to attend the workshop.

Pricing water
The IrrigateCost app  Redirecting to a non-government site models center-pivot and gated pipe irrigation systems and the most commonly used energy sources. Using information such as acres irrigated, pumping lift, system PSI, pump and pivot life, and inches applied, the app computes total irrigation cost, along with the total cost of owning and operating a system. It also breaks down costs by irrigation well, pump, gear head, pump base, diesel engine and tank and system and calculates per-acre annual cost and per-acre-inch annual cost.

IrrigateCost breaks down the total cost of owning and operating an irrigation system to help growers determine if developing land for irrigation is going to be economically feasible. (Photo by Google App Store)

IrrigateCost breaks down the total cost of owning and operating an irrigation system to help growers determine if developing land for irrigation is going to be economically feasible. (Photo by Google App Store)

Growers make a number of management decisions based on the annualized costs of owning and operating an irrigation system, starting with whether or not to develop land for irrigation. For a system to be economically feasible, the net income from increased yields due to irrigation development must exceed the additional costs of owning and operating the system over its expected life. Once development is underway, the app can help determine design choices, including selection of energy source for pumping water, the type of distribution system, and so on. Other uses for the app include:

  • Calculating a fair crop-share rental agreement
  • Knowing what to charge for watering a portion of a neighbor’s field
  • Estimating costs to pump an acre-inch of water to help you determine how many additional bushels of a crop are needed by applying one more inch of water at the end of the irrigation season

The app is available through most phone carriers’ app stores. iPod and iPad users can get IrrigateCost from the Apple iTunes store  Redirecting to a non-government site for $1.99. In The Google App Store  Redirecting to a non-government site offers a version of the app for Android users, also $1.99.

Pricing efficiency
IrrigatePump  Redirecting to a non-government site helps to calculate the efficiency of a pumping plant and to determine the potential savings from upgrading the system.

Whether a pumping plant uses diesel, electricity, gasoline, natural gas or propane, chances are it is using 25 percent more energy than expected by the Nebraska Pumping Plant Performance Criteria  Redirecting to a non-government site (NPC). A pumping plant meeting the criteria delivers the expected amount of useful work, measured as water horsepower hours, for the amount of energy consumed. The NPC is based on field tests of pumping plants, lab tests of engines and manufacturer data on three-phase electric motors.

The user enters six numbers related to pumping lift, pressure at the discharge, acre-inches of water pumped, fuel price and total fuel used. The app then calculates a pumping plant performance rating, provides an estimated cost to bring the pumping plant up to standard and the number of years for payback on the investment at various interest rates.

Both apps provide anonymous results that users can capture and email to their own devices. The cost of IrrigatePump is $1.99 through Apple, Google or phone carriers.

Ingram noted that these apps are new and have not been through a full growing season yet, but he has used them and other agriculture apps on his own farm. Crop Water, an app UNL developed for scheduling irrigation—specifically for Nebraska soils—has been particularly helpful, he added.

Farming goes high-tech
There are now apps for almost every aspect of farming and ranching, from monitoring invasive species in your area to logging machinery maintenance, and most are free or inexpensive. Utilities might consider giving agriculture customers apps that are related to energy and water management like IrrigateCost and IrrigatePump. Apps could be great small incentives and customer relationship builders.

Just remember that not all apps are created equal. Croplife magazine  Redirecting to a non-government site suggests doing a little homework before selecting an agriculture app. Or, better yet, contact your local university extension service to find out what they recommend or offer. Farming is a tough job, and growers will appreciate anything their utilities can do to help them operate more efficiently and effectively.

[Editor’s note: Apps aren’t the only thing you can offer your ag customers. Contact Energy Services if your utility is interested in sponsoring an irrigation efficiency workshop like the one NPPD presented in Grand Island.]

Workshop focuses on improving irrigation efficiency

Inefficient irrigation systems can be costly—to the grower, the utility and the community—so Western is co-sponsoring a workshop Nov. 18 to help agricultural customers explore resources to tackle the problem.

Lots to learn
REAP Irrigation Energy Cost Savings—From Testing Your Pumps to Financing and Completing the ProjectRedirecting to a non-government site will introduce participants to free equipment-testing programs, grants and incentives to upgrade their agricultural operations. Speakers from Nebraska Public Power DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site (NPPD) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development will share:

  • Details on free programs support through NPPD, Western and other agencies
  • Hands-on training on pump testing and using infrared cameras to identify savings on energy-related costs, such as livestock watering, grain drying and shop energy

Best of all, the workshop is free to NPPD members and their agricultural customers. “We are excited about this workshop because it offers a unique perspective,” explained NPPD Energy Efficiency Consultant Ronald Rose. “Irrigation customers will learn about the types of projects that qualify for federal, state and local incentives, and how to design energy efficiency into their projects up front.”

Hear from experts
NPPD is a leader in managing irrigation loads and supporting agricultural customers. Over the past 40 years, connected irrigation horsepower served by NPPD has grown at an annual rate of 4.7 percent. Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of reported peak load controlled in 2010. The power wholesaler’s EnergyWise Pump Efficiency Program offers financial incentives for testing and upgrading eligible electric irrigation pumps to improve overall efficiency.

Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of NPPD's reported peak load controlled in 2010.

Irrigation accounted for 99 percent of NPPD’s reported peak load controlled in 2010.

NPPD recently partnered with a grower and vendor on an innovative pilot project, and Rose will be on hand to discuss lessons learned. The 25-kilowatt solar-powered irrigation system comprising 100 250-watt panels generated 40,000 kilowatt-hours in its first year of operation. “As far as we know, the system is the first of its kind in Nebraska,” he observed.

Visitors to NPPD’s website will find an operating-cost calculator and a status window to check on the daily irrigation control schedule. There is also information about specialized rates, incentives and applying for USDA energy grants.

USDA Rural Development provides from $22.8 to $75 million in grant funding to agricultural producers and small rural business owners interested in improving their energy efficiency or investing in renewable resource technology. The nationwide program is available to businesses in populations of 50,000 or less and to farmers and ranchers.

Veteran training provider
Clean Energy AmbassadorsRedirecting to a non-government site (CEA), which is coordinating the event, has teamed with Western on many successful workshops, including popular infrared camera training. CEA’s free Lunchtime Webinar series presents a monthly opportunity to learn about cost-effective measures and technologies that can help small electric cooperatives save their customers energy and money.

Registration is required, so don’t wait to take advantage of this training opportunity. After registering you will receive an agenda and directions to the workshop site, the NRD Conference CenterRedirecting to a non-government site in Grand Island, Nebraska. For more information about registration or the workshop, contact Emily Stark at 406-969-1040.

Irrigation energy efficiency the topic of free webinar

The next Lunchtime Webinar from Clean Energy AmbassadorsRedirecting to a non-government site (CEA) will be of special interest to any utility with a significant irrigation load. Join CEA on Sept. 23 for Irrigation Energy Efficiency—Your Technical and Financing Plan to learn about measures that can be a tremendous source of water, energy and cost savings for agricultural customers and the utilities that serve them.

The webinar will offer the latest information on irrigation and livestock pump efficiency measures, including pump testing and improved system design. Presentations will cover examples from the successful irrigation efficiency program at Nebraska Public Power DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site.  A speaker from the Department of Agriculture will be on hand to offer advice on how REAP grants and loans can help achieve cost-saving improvements. You will also get details about free pump-testing resources available through Western for regional customers.

Utilities, local agencies, individual agriculture customers and those in related businesses will find this session useful.

CEA’s monthly Lunchtime Webinar series explores issues that affect consumer-owned power providers serving rural areas and small towns in the Great Plains and the West. The hour-long events generally take place on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 12 p.m. Central time. The focus is on cost-effective, easy-to-implement strategies to help utilities save money and build customer relationships. Discussions are lively and informal opportunities to share ideas with peers. Recordings of past webinars are available on the CEA website.

If you have any questions, please contact Emily Stark at 406-969-1040.

Meet Western customer Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District

[Editor’s note: Every Western customer is unique, but they also share many circumstances and characteristics. Profile stories highlight the strengths, challenges, programs and operational and planning strategies our customers use to “keep the lights on.” We encourage utilities to recognize the issues they have in common and to swap ideas and ask each other questions. If you would like to see your utility featured, contact the Energy Services Bulletin editor.]

Small but complex, Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site (WMIDD) is vitally important to its southwestern Arizona service territory as both a water and power provider.

Agriculture is the leading industry in WMIDD's service territory, and lettuce is a principle--and thirsty--crop.

Agriculture is the leading industry in WMIDD’s service territory, and lettuce is a principle–and thirsty–crop. (All photos by Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District)

The Arizona State Legislature created the combination reclamation project/electric utility in 1951 to repay the construction costs of the irrigation and power systems, and to operate and maintain its facilities. The Desert Southwest region customer is governed by a nine-person board of directors elected by landowners living within its boundaries.

Maintaining low rates
WMIDD serves about 3,500 customers, of which 81 percent are residential, 17 percent commercial and 2 percent agricultural. Agriculture is the region’s leading industry, with the district providing irrigation for more than 62,000 acres of cropland. That leaves little private land in WMIDD’s territory for expanding the local economy to offset losses caused by changes in the agriculture business. This scenario led to several years of a shrinking customer base and declining school enrollment, a common occurrence in many rural communities. The area has become a popular destination for retirees and “snow birds” fleeing cold winters, but the proportion of low-income customers remains high. 

It is no wonder, then, that the district’s highest priority is keeping its water and electricity rates affordable. “One of our customers’ greatest concerns is just being able to pay their utility bills,” confirmed Susan Lozier, WMIDD power procurement and marketing specialist.

Purchasing hydropower from Western helps WMIDD keep customers’ rates low. Most of the district’s generation comes from three hydroelectric dams on the Colorado River. Western also provides ancillary service support to WMIDD, coordinating supplemental power purchases, scheduling, regulating load and balancing energy delivery. “Western is instrumental in all our power dealings,” Lozier observed. “Our hydropower generation is the district’s most important power asset.”

Promoting efficiency
Load management is not a high priority for WMIDD, and resources for developing customer programs are limited.  Nevertheless, the district has found ways to encourage customers to control their energy consumption.

Air conditioning represents a big opportunity for energy savings to the summer-peaking utility. WMIDD, through its Wellton-Mohawk Co-op, stocks air conditioners with a 13 or higher seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER, rating for resale to customers at cost, plus a small handling charge. Customers are responsible for installing the units, although some local technicians do installations. “The local contractor pool is pretty small,” Lozier explained. “There are more contractors in Yuma, but the city is 30 miles away with a mountain range in between. They aren’t going to travel that far to do one installation, unless they sell the unit also.”

Other measures WMIDD takes to save energy include replacing mercury vapor dusk-to-dawn lighting in public spaces with high-pressure sodium lamps and doing annual infrared inspections of its distribution system. The practice of leveling crop fields using laser technology reduces the need for pumping, saving both water and energy.

Simply reminding customers of tried-and-true energy-saving tips can be an effective load-management strategy and here, again, Western can help small utilities like WMIDD. Lozier has used the Energy Services Easy Ways to Save Energy bookmark as a bill stuffer. Our graphics department set up artwork with the district’s logo that could be printed and cut right in the office. This year, at Lozier’s request, we turned our cooling maintenance tip sheet into a bill stuffer to help WMIDD customers make sure their air conditioners are ready for the hot weather. 

Water in a dry land
Electricity is only half of WMIDD’s story, of course—the district has approximately 378 miles of main canals, lateral canals and return-flow channels to irrigate prime and unique farmland. The system includes three major pumping plants and four minor pump stations, 10 side delivery pumps dispersed along main and lateral canals, 90 drainage wells and about 300 observation wells. WMIDD also provides water to several small communities through public, private, municipal and domestic distribution systems. 

WMIDD Pumping Plant #2 is part of a vast irrigation system that supplies water to 62,000 acres of cropland.

WMIDD Pumping Plant #2 is part of a vast irrigation system that supplies water to 62,000 acres of cropland.

The area’s principal crops include alfalfa, grains, cotton, fruits and vegetables and specialty seeds. Wellton-Mohawk customers grow most of the world’s supply of registered Bermuda grass seed. The widely used grass is highly salt tolerant, and was a mainstay for local farmers from 1940 to 1952 when well water grew increasingly saline.

Water salinity is an ongoing issue WMIDD has dealt with since its inception. The district shares the waters of the Colorado River with many jurisdictions, as well as Mexico. The farther a river flows from its heading, the more saline it becomes naturally, and diverting water for other uses increases the salinity even more. The district has been a party to many international agreements and construction projects throughout the decades aimed at improving or maintaining the water quality of Mexico’s share. Working with growers and the Bureau of Reclamation to adopt best land-use and irrigation practices also helps to reduce the salinity of Wellton-Mohawk’s return flow.

Add in vegetation management and flood protection activities, and it is clear that the work of a desert-region water reclamation project located along an international boundary is never done. Western salutes this small, but hard-working, multi-tasking agency. Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District plays a critical role, not only in its community, but also in the vitality of the entire region, and knowing we support such customers gives meaning to our work.