Second Life for Water

by Curt Burnett on August 3, 2011

MOSES LAKE — Eli Wollman and the Warden Hutterian Brethren grow hundreds of acres of potatoes, wheat, corn and other crops in arid Eastern Washington, irrigating many of those crops from wells that tap a rapidly declining aquifer.

They’ve been waiting years for additional surface water rights from the Columbia River, but the wait may have just gotten shorter.

State and federal officials gathered east of Moses Lake on Tuesday to celebrate the first major project to deliver Columbia River water to Eastern Washington farmers and communities since the 1970s.

Seattle Times, August 3, 2011

Over the years we’ve worked with the Warden Colony many times. Unlike other descendants of historic European Anabaptist movements (Amish, for instance) the Hutterian Brethren embrace technology if it makes them more productive. They’re hard and intelligent workers and the colony has prospered greatly. You may have eaten fries from their potatoes at your McDonald’s recently. 

The colony is a perfect test ground for new irrigation-related technology, because they tend to put new products to real use immediately and then give immediate feedback if something isn’t working right. And the Hutterites are very motivated in their search for new ways to achieve water efficiency. 

The Times article draws attention to the potential coming supply of Columbia River irrigation water, an eagerly-awaited development due to the decline of the Odessa Aquifer which many Eastern Washington irrigators draw from. One detail that didn’t get mentioned is that, while they’ve waited, the Hutterites have been pioneers in the use of reclaimed water for their 200+ center pivot systems.

A huge potato-processing facility was built not far from the colony a few years ago, and piping was constructed to  bring huge amounts of used potato water to the fields. Dual piping systems allow this water to be mixed in with fresh water from the wells and applied through the pivots. Starches in the reclaimed water have led to biofilm growth and other issues, but in general the approach has been successful in reducing the amount of water that has to be drawn from the aquifer.

In the future, reclaimed water will undoubtedly be one of the answers to the question of where to get the water to grow our food.

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