NRCS is known for providing one-on-one, personalized advice on the best solutions to meet unique conservation challenges. Sometimes the best solution is not something expensive or new but is instead simple and time-tested.
A project at Willow Creek Ranch, near Likely, Calif., is a good example. During the recent drought, rancher Pearce Flournoy came to the Alturas Field Office and asked how he could better utilize part of his pasture. He wanted to distribute his cattle more uniformly by establishing a water facility to draw his livestock to an unused part of his ranch. But for that he needed water.
“We initially talked about drilling a well,” said District Conservationist Bryon Hadwick “But the neighboring ranch had attempted a well and came up with a dry hole. They didn’t get any usable water, and there was a risk of that happening to Pearce.”
Flournoy’s nearest functioning spring was nearly a mile away from the pasture that needed the water and was much lower in elevation. “We considered our best options, and our civil engineer, Tom Hill, came up with a design for a ram pump,” Hadwick said.
Hydraulic ram pump technology has been around since the late 1700’s. But interest declined in the 1890’s as electricity and electric pumps became more widely available. The basic principle is to use a large amount of water falling a short distance to pump a small amount of water to a higher elevation. “A ram pump basically takes water pressure and multiplies it,” Hill said. “It works like a water hammer.” “If we had done a well it would probably have taken at least as much pipe,” added Hadwick. Our cost is less with this design because we’re not installing a well, which is very costly. It’s certainly cheaper for the landowner as well.”
A ram pump has the advantage of not needing electricity, wind or fuel to run. “Pearce’s pump is bringing water up 220 feet in elevation by going downhill 12 feet,” noted Hadwick. “So it collects 12 feet of pressure and then pumps nearly a mile up the hill without electricity.”
“And it can pump 24 hours a day,” added Hill. “If we designed for a solar pump it would only pump about five hours a day.”
Flournoy said that he can get the pump started with ease, and when the livestock are not in that field he can turn it off. It’s also a floated system, so it can only fill up the water trough and the storage tank and then won’t accept any more water.
“We hadn’t been able to use that field for about five years,” said Flournoy. “I’m thankful that the NRCS could provide assistance and it was in their nature to want to help with these kinds of things.”
Image credit: Images courtesy of USDA/NRCS California.