Open-ditch Irrigation is Nearly Over in Provo

Open-ditch Irrigation is Nearly Over in Provo

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Officials have plans to stop the water rushing through open irrigation ditches that run along city streets in central and southwestern parts of the city.

To ease the transition for those who use ditch irrigation, Provo is offering irrigation users a buyout and is proposing a water rate increase to take effect in 2005.

By then, the 150 homes still on the irrigation system will need to convert to culinary water for outdoor watering.

The rough average for the buyout was estimated between $250 and $300, depending on the amount of land users are paying to irrigate.

Open-ditch, gravity-flow irrigation systems seem to be evaporating in Utah Valley.

In the north part of Utah County, systems in Highland, Pleasant Grove, Lehi and American Fork either have converted from ditch irrigation to pressurized irrigation or are in the process of doing so or looking into it, said Kent Day, vice president of the Highland Water Company and water master of the Highland Ditch Irrigation System.

Converting the systems to pressurized irrigation generally costs money and involves tearing up roads, Day said.

But there are benefits. Because irrigation water is piped in a pressurized system, children don't drown in open ditches. Pressurized systems also are convenient -- residents can set up an automated sprinkler system rather than waking up to take a turn on an open-ditch system.

Provo's irrigation system, like other open-ditch systems, is an extremely inefficient use of water, said Greg Beckstrom, Provo assistant public works director.

During a complete irrigation season, which usually runs from late April to early October, approximately 10,000 acre-feet of water are diverted out of the Provo River for irrigation purposes, he said. More than 90 percent of that water is lost through seepage into the ground and irrigation, in addition to tail water that is discharged back to the Provo River or Provo Bay.

The irrigation system helps people water their gardens less expensively than if they used culinary water, said Tom Parker, chairman of Franklin Neighborhood, whose uses the irrigation water.

Parker said he would like to see the irrigation system preserved in the earliest settled parts of the city because of its historical value. "We see it as a valuable amenity and an intrinsic part of the old, central neighborhood's functioning," he said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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