Agriculture in Nevada is dominated by the livestock industry because desert and mountain rangelands dominate the state’s landscape. Since rangelands do not have the water or the soils to produce crops or other abundant vegetation, ranchers use livestock to harvest some of the vegetation and convert it into a saleable product – meat. However, with meat prices increasing at a slower rate than inflation, ranchers are looking to reduce their rapidly inflating input costs.
Pumping water is one of those input costs that ranchers can control. According to Jim Gatzke, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Caliente, improving water systems on the range can eliminate fuel costs associated with water hauling and generator-powered pumps as well as increase access to feed.
Water is commonly the limiting factor on Nevada rangelands, and distances between water sources are generally far. Typically, water is found in springs and creeks in the mountains and foothills while the valley bottoms are dry. In addition, water is of insufficient quantity or quality and may not be available when needed. Since the beginning of grazing in Nevada, ranchers have developed wells and diverted springs or creeks to provide water for livestock. In the 21st century, ranchers are replacing, revamping and adding to old water delivery systems.
With the increased costs of fuels, many ranchers are looking to renewable energy to send water to the troughs. “Solar powered pumps are becoming the preferred renewable method because solar energy in the desert is more consistent than the wind,” said Gatzke.
Willow Creek Ranch owners Russell and David Fitzwater have installed five energy efficient watering facilities on their private land and public allotments near Eureka in a collaborative effort with the Bureau of Land Management and NRCS. The solar panel pumping plants, new pipeline, and water storage tanks and troughs have provided the Fitzwaters with an efficient and effective livestock watering system. “Solar energy has eliminated our gas bill, while giving us the ability to have fresh, dependable water every day,” said Russell Fitzwater.
Solar pumps consist of a submersible pump designed to use solar energy, a pump controller, and mounted solar panels. Although initial costs are high, the lower maintenance costs of solar pumps make them more economical than windmills or generators. Solar pumps are ideal for low pressure and low flow uses like livestock water systems. Solar pumps are designed based on the water needs of livestock and the energy required to pump the water. If livestock use the range in the winter, the solar pump will be designed based on the solar energy available in the winter, taking into account factors such as short day length and low sun angle.
Finally, USDA offers financial incentives for installing solar pumps that defray or defer the initial cost.
For more information, contact your local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service office. Offices can be found online www.nrcs.usda.gov/contact.