COLUMN: Get a drip and save some water

Drip irrigation deserves a thought, even on the West Coast.

During one of the recent choking-hot afternoons, I was driving past a Surrey farm and noticed sprinklers showering the field at full blast.

In 30-degree heat, from each sprinkler head, the water was making a high, misty arc before succumbing to gravity.

With all that water flying through the air, how much of it was evaporating before it hit the ground – and the road?

It got me thinking of something I saw on TV as a kid – Israeli engineers making the Negev Desert bloom using drip irrigation.

As I understood it at the time, it was just hoses on the ground with small holes doling out just the right amount of water to the thirsty crops.

It turns out the engineering was more complicated than that, but the basic idea is the same: A drastic reduction in water usage, while giving the plants – specifically their roots – what they need, and no more.

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, using the new plastics that became available, they developed and patented emitters that dripped water from longer and longer hoses.

(Hoses with only holes weren’t as controllable and they just clogged up over time.)

Drip irrigation wasn’t just good there because of the arid climate, but because the soil was sandy. Small amounts of water in a targeted area meant less water loss.

I remember my grandfather using a basic system of drip irrigation in his own backyard grove. That red soil wasn’t great, but the apples, lemons and oranges grew nicely.

Over the next few decades, growers in places such as Australia and California began adopting and improving drip irrigation methods.

Farmers also discovered that there is a reduction in plant diseases when the above-ground foliage doesn’t come in contact with water.

On top of that, fertilizer can be mixed with the water – “fertigation” – and studies have shown drastic reduction in the amount of fertilizer used to do the same job.

Is there a cost to drip irrigation?

Yes, it’s called the cost – the sizeable initial outlay and the fine-tuning to adapt the system to a particular climate, soil and crop.

It’s a high-maintenance, and nowadays both hardware- and software-dependent endeavour for the modern grower.

Arguably, a few months from now, as we’re running for our umbrellas, few people in B.C. will be thinking about water conservation or drip irrigation.

Our reservoirs may fill back up, but nothing can be counted on – just look at California, which is entering a fifth year of drought.

Now, in B.C., it’s July. It’s hot. And it’s the time to think about it.