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Flood Irrigation Study Helps American Indian TribeBy David Elstein
November 5, 2003
Agricultural Research Service rangeland scientist Chad Boyd is conducting flood irrigation research to determine its ecological impact on nearly 2,000 acres of land near Burns, Ore., managed by the Burns Paiute Tribe.
The land was flood-irrigated using water from Lake Creek until 1999, but that practice stopped because the tribe didn't know how flood irrigation was impacting the ecology of meadows on the land. There also were concerns about whether removing water from Lake Creek might alter the temperature of the water still remaining in the creek, with possible impact on the creek's fish. Then, in 2000, the tribe contacted the ARS Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center (EOARC) in Burns to conduct experiments to see how reintroducing irrigation would affect water quality and native plants, some of which are culturally important to the tribe.
Boyd still has at least two years of research remaining, but preliminary results so far show that flood irrigation will benefit the land and the tribe in both the short and long term. There will continue to be both wet and dry types of vegetation which could provide habitat for a variety of wildlife species.
Boyd's studies included use of a flow meter set up at different points in the creek to determine water flow, and temperature-recording equipment to see how flood irrigation changed the temperature in the creek. In addition, Boyd measured the depth of the water table before and after irrigation and did a survey of the area's plant species before and after irrigation.
Since there is a lot of interest in the management of riparian areas, Boyd's research is likely applicable to other lands in the western United States.
The area provides a good place for Boyd to conduct flood irrigation research, and the tribe can use his results to better manage its land.
For more information about the flood irrigation research and other EOARC work with the Paiute Tribe, see the November 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.