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Irrigation Program

Resource5_512px_219px.jpgIn 2009, the National Elk Refuge was awarded a $5 million investment through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for improvement and expansion of the Refuge's existing irrigation system.

The National Elk Refuge operates an extensive irrigation program that runs throughout each spring and summer season. The irrigation program focuses on producing high-quality, standing forage for wintering elk and bison.

Historically, the National Elk Refuge primarily watered cultivated fields by flood irrigation, using the same ditch systems created by original homesteaders.The flood irrigation process involved diverting water from sources such as Flat, Cache, and Nowlin creeks and conveying it through open irrigation ditches. The water was then directed onto fields by using permanent water control structures or temporary dams. Flood irrigation, however, proved to be much more inefficient than other methods, in part due to the porous nature of soils on the National Elk Refuge. Only an estimated 10-15% of the water that was being diverted reached its destination. 
 

In 2009, the National Elk Refuge was awarded a $5 million investment through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for improvement and expansion of the Refuge's existing irrigation system, making it the large Recovery Act project in the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Mountain-Prairie Region. Design work on the Irrigation Expansion Project began in Summer 2009, with most of the construction from May through August 2010. Crews trenched, installed, and backfilled approximately 5 miles of fused main line pipe. A series of smaller diameter lateral lines, or pipeline extensions, were then laid to run off the main line to carry water to specific irrigation sites. Refuge staff began running the new system in Spring 2011.

Each fall, the refuge's staff biologist conducts forage production sampling, taking at least one sample from each type of the various plant communities found on the refuge. The sampling process also calculates the amount of forage produced during that year's growing season. 

Higher forage production can delay the start date for the supplemental feeding season on the refuge, but the number of elk and bison, the duration of time that the animals spend on the refuge, and environmental conditions are other important factors.

Photos of forage production and irrigation on the National Elk Refuge can be found in the refuge's photo gallery

Last Updated: Aug 07, 2013
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