Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Absurd Irrigation

(Big Sky, MT)- Along US 20 in northwestern Wyoming, we saw several examples of farms that wouldn't exist if it weren't for irrigation. If it weren't for dams and ditches, there wouldn't be irrigation. Every farm in the area near the Bighorn River had either an irrigation ditch surrounding it, or a 6" water pipe lying on the ground near the crops.

Big deal? Read a great book called "Cadillac Desert". It details the large-scale big government water programs that have artificially populated the west, creating farms where they aren't sustainable, depriving people downstream of water, and otherwise damage the environment. It become evident how absurd the irrigation is when you see them in the context of the powdery desert soils that surround the farms.
The hose spurts far off in this shot. This image shows what most of this part of Wyoming looks like.

Sage brush in the foreground. That's what naturally occurs here. A lush farm behind it- only where the land is irrigated.

The big sprinkler is visible here.

So, now I want to pose a question: It is said to be more environmentally friendly to grow food crops near to populations. While Wyoming is the least populated state in the Union, they do have to eat. Which would be better environmental policy? Irrigating locally in Wyoming to feed the state's population? Or, ending the irrigation and shipping the food?


varangianguard said...

You don't think those crops you see are feeding anybody in Wyoming do you?

Mike Kole said...

Most of them? No. Mainly, we were seeing corn. That's being grown for ethanol production and feed.

We have a good idea that the local barley is grown for Coors, because the brewer had an elevator on US 20. Also, the straw being harvested is very likely to stay in WY for the horses and cattle. Corn was the main crop we saw, though.

David Zetland said...


If the irrigation is sustainable (i.e., slower than recharge), then the power consumer in pumping is probably lower than the power used in shipping -- assuming that the food is for local consumption!