Farm water conservation during times of drought

In a drought prone region such as the Prairies, water availability is always a concern. Limited surface water resources and recurring droughts reinforce the need for conservation.

Water conservation, which can be defined as the efficient use of water, should be considered as an important part of every farm management plan. When conservation methods are implemented, financial savings can come in the form of deferred expenditures for expansion or new development of water sources. Environmental benefits include leaving more water in natural systems for in-stream uses and improving the quality of water in those same systems.

Understanding the amount of water needed on your farm is the first step in implementing a water conservation program. A water meter can be used to monitor water consumption by livestock, household, irrigation and other needs. Changes in consumption can indicate problems such as leaks which should immediately be fixed to prevent wasting water. Metering can also be used to determine when peaks in water use occur, allowing for planning of storage facilities (cisterns) in situations where supply is limited. Noticing a reduction of water use by cattle can also be an indication of herd health problems.

Surface water supplies such as dugouts and streams can be enhanced and protected by implementing conservation measures. Remote watering systems such as solar pumps or nose pumps conserve water by preventing degradation of the source caused by livestock having direct access. Water loss from evaporation and seepage can be reduced from dugouts by installing covers and/or liners.

Consider replacing several pasture dugouts with one larger dugout (or better yet, a well) which is centrally located (usually at the farmstead), and then distributing water to the pastures with a pipeline. This system has multiple benefits:

  • a centrally located source is usually closer to power, allowing for pumping of water over great distances with relatively small diameters of pipe
  • one centrally located source is usually easier to maintain than several small dugouts scattered around the farm
  • cleaner water is delivered to the pastures, potentially increasing the rate of weight gain of the cattle
  • installing a pipeline is usually much cheaper than building more dugouts.

A lot of water can also be conserved in the home. Retrofitting existing devices such as toilets or showers with water saving devices can reduce water consumption significantly. Replacing conventional toilets with low-flush models reduces water consumption by up to 13 litres per flush, which can add up to 75,000 litres per year for an average sized family. Checking for leaks and repairing them when necessary is also a good way to reduce unnecessary water consumption. Switching to water efficient washing machines and dishwashers can also reduce water consumption, and save energy as well.

Efficient use of water through conservation can assist in prolonging the life of your water supplies, which may make your farm operation more sustainable during periods of drought. Water conservation can also reduce costs, increase productivity and protect your water supply from contamination, while at the same time protecting the environment.