The Nebraska Environmental Trust has approved a grant to construct a subsurface drip irrigation system that will used effluent from the UNL Panhandle Research Feedlot to water crops on plots near the feedlot.
The irrigation system is under construction at the Mitchell Agricultural Laboratory 5 miles north of the Panhandle Research and Extension Center, where the feedlot and various crop research plots are located, according to Xin Qiao, irrigation and water management specialist, the principal investigator on the project.
Water that runs off the 105-pen feedlot into an effluent holding pond will be pumped through the subsurface drip system, Qiao said. On some of the plots, air will be added to water by injecting it into the drip irrigation system to test its effect on water quality and crop yield.
The plots will be divided into two sections, one planted to sugarbeets and the other to corn, and 12 zones (six in each section). Half of the zones will have air injected. Soil samples and water samples will be collected and tested for quality.
The Nebraska Environmental Trust grant will provide $287,605 for the two-year project, which begins in the spring of 2019. The project is a collaboration between the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center and the Nebraska Water Center’s Matteo D’Alessio and Chittaranjan Ray.
Underground emitter tape is being installed in the fields this week, and other equipment, such as controllers and air injectors, is expected to be installed in early May. Mazzei, a California company that manufactures the injectors, is providing the injectors at cost, Qiao said.
Re-use of wastewater is seen as one potential method to help make optimal use of limited water resources. In the North Platte River Basin, a moratorium on irrigation expansion and allocations on irrigation water have been in effect for years, with the goal of reducing streamflow depletions caused by irrigation water pumping. Wastewater is one potential source of water for irrigation.
The outcome of this study may provide a best-management practice to treat feedlot runoff and increase crop yield for corn and sugarbeets in western Nebraska, according to Qiao.