Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Monday, July 24, 2006


The first time I ever helped move an irrigation line was after we bought this farm with "first-water" rights on the bordering stream, a pump, mainline and lateral pipes. I remember us (back then it was two adults and two kids) hooking up each pipe, trying to keep the line relatively straight, then standing aside as the pump was turned on.

That day, the sound of water came up the lines, the pressure began to build as it filled the pipes. The first sprinkler head came up slowly, just dribbling out some water, then the second. The entire system gave almost a sigh and like magic the rest came up at the same time with most of the heads turning, throwing life giving water onto the fields. It was beautiful to me then and just as much so today.

This summer, nearly thirty years later, when we started up the system, I was standing at the end of the mainline to signal when the water cleared of mud and debris (winter's contribution to the pipes). I saw a little rodent head with dark eyes poke out; and then as quickly disappear when it saw me. Obviously the little one knew something was about to happen to what had been a secure home. It was not yet sure how serious the problem was. A time like that is when it's really good the line is started in sections, as if the little critter had to make it to the very end of the pipes, with a gusher of water chasing it, it would have had no hope (which would not have been good for us either as it would have meant a drowned rodent midway somewhere). As it was, as the water began to flow, out it exploded, drenched, skittering like mad for the trees on the other side of the road. It made it. Now whether it'll find a more secure home, that's more debatable. It is the bottom of the food chain after all.

The photos are of the long main line, then the laterals (the creative bends are complements of the cows who like to put their stamp on everything), and finally the pump down by the creek as the water starts to flow.

Moving pipe is good exercise as there is a lot of bending, lifting and walking--no part of it graceful or pretty. Someone with a lot of strength and balance can unhook the long pipes, lift one by themselves and rehook it into the next location down the field. I am not that someone. I am the someone who can pick up one end of the pipe and carry it down or up the field, rejoining it at the next location.

The bucket (you can kind of see alongside the pump, below the big pipe) is in case the pump has lost its prime overnight (the neighbors, whose house is across the creek from the pump, prefer not hearing it run at night). It is refilled by the leak you see in the photo; so it's ready for the next run-- unless the cows, like they did one night this week, decide it's a good source of water and drink it dry.

We don't pull much water from the stream, but if water levels drop too low, irrigation can be stopped by the state or ourselves. These days, our little stream is too small for anything but crawdads, mussels, and tiny fish. With the heavily logged hills above us, warmer temperatures and less rain, the creek, when it gets to us, has not appeared as full as what we have normally seen.

Our responsibility is to the land-- creek, grass, and the animals that live from it. The whole process is part of the balance of life where we try to take care of our obligations without unfairly draining resources. It's true for all people; but on a small patch of land with a few animals, it might just be easier to see.


Dick said...

I think water management is one of the biggest challenges of living in the West. It is critical that it be properly done and will be even more important as our population increases. I really wonder about the tremendous growth I see in the desert SW. They are really short of water and with the great growth they are experiencing in population, people are demanding water that used to go to food production. People can live elsewhere but the food production isn't that easy to move. And they all seem to want golf courses there which are humongous water users. Will we learn to better manage what is there before it is too late?

goldenlucyd said...

True, true. I think in the future water will be more precious than oil.
A marvelous post, Rain, as usual. I had no idea how irrigation systems worked and I enjoyed the lesson.

Suzann said...

I agree with Lucy - thanks for the lesson, Rain. Water management is critical - I remember the drought in Northern California in the 1970's when people didn't even flush their toilets if it only contained urine. A glass of water in a restaurant was unheard of. Of course, I also remember all the lines at gas stations too - we dont' learn very well do we? Your stewardship of land is wonderful - i can feel your love and care for it.

Sandy said...

Once again you bring back memories of yet another part of farm life for me. Irrigation, for us, was a must. We were lucky to have had a canal close by to many of our fields and the neighbors in our area were very supportive of all night irrigating as they had to do the same. We had several different kinds one very similar to the one you show in your pictures. For you it is definitely a job to try and limit how much you take from the stream. Ours was either available or not. In any case I have pictures in my mind of helping to get the systems up and running and yes...listening to the sound of the water.

robin andrea said...

Excellent post, Rain. Water is more important than oil, we could live without the latter, but never without the former. The scary thing that's going on the world right now is the privatization of water. Something we think of as a public utility will be owned by private corporations. Not such a comforting idea.

Ingineer66 said...

I have done my share of pulling irrigation lines. Glad I went to college and dont have to do that anymore. Water is going to be the new oil and the money is going to control it. The big cities can pay a lot more for it than the farmers can, but eventually we will get hungry when the farmers cant grow food anymore.