Tailwater Abatement

broken borderThe loss of irrigation water ("tailwater") from the land on which it is produced is a violation of Texas state law and the rules of the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1.

High Plains Water District Rule 1(pp) defines water waste as it relates to irrigation tailwater as "willfully or negligently causing, suffering, or permitting underground water to escape into any river, creek, natural watercourse, depression, lake, reservoir, drain, sewer, street, highway, road or road ditch, or onto any land other than that of the owner of the well; or ground water pumped for irrigation that escapes as irrigation tailwater onto land other than that of the owner of the well unless permission has been granted by the occupant of the land receiving the discharge..."

In the early days of the Water District, irrigation water losses from farm fields were commonplace. Irrigation technology was in its infancy. So, open, unlined ditches were the only method used to transfer water from the well to the crop rows. Most open, unlined ditches have been replaced by underground pipe.

During the early 1960s, many irrigators believed tailwater losses were insignificant and that it would not be economically feasible to recover this water. The Water District measured irrigation tailwater using "V" notch weirs throughout the District in the mid-1960s. Signs were placed next to each weir to show how much water was flowing through the weir. The District learned that the average loss was about 20 percent of the water being pumped.

To overcome these water losses, the District actively promoted the use of tailwater return pits for many years. Use of these systems declined in the mid-1980s as center pivot sprinkler use became more wide-spread.

Investigation of irrigation water waste usually results from telephone calls from the public or observations by field technicians conducting Water District business.

Irrigation water waste is investigated the same day it is reported to the District headquarters office in Lubbock. The Water District carefully documents incidents of irrigation tailwater with photographs and written reports and notifies the owner and operator of the problem. In most instances, this is all that is needed to correct the problem.

However, if documentation indicates that wasting water is a habitual practice, a lawsuit will be filed by the Water District seeking an injunction against the landowner and operator.

If major improvements are needed to eliminate the tailwater losses, Water District policy gives landowners and operators the opportunity to submit a written plan to permanently eliminate the waste within a year. Once a plan is agreed upon, no legal action will be taken during the one-year period, providing that the landowner and operator are making a sincere effort to control the tailwater waste.

Improved water management practices, such as surge irrigation, Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) center pivot systems, subsurface drip irrigation (SDI), and laser land leveling have helped eliminate much of the tailwater waste within the High Plains Water District.