Water Conservation at the Woodvale Farm

Final Report for LNE94-048

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1994: $0.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $880.00
ACE Funds: $3,396.00
Region: Northeast
State: Rhode Island
Project Leader:
John Jacques
Woodvale Farm W. Alton Jones Campus
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Project Information

Summary:

Background:

Over the past several years Woodvale Farm has faced an annual water shortage. Some years the crisis became so bad that the farm implemented a “no water usage” rule in its classroom and two staff houses that use the farm’s well water. The health of the livestock being a priority, the gardens subsequently went underwatered and our crop yields suffered. As an educational farm committed to practicing and teaching about sustainable methods, it was felt necessary to protect the water supply and conserve it in the event of a drought. Additionally, these methods would improve the resource management component of the farm’s educational curriculum.

Project Objectives:

1. Implement new methods to conserve water at Woodvale Farm.

2. Educate children about the importance of water conservation and its methods.

Research

Research results and discussion:

Several automatic waterers for livestock, two drip irrigation systems, and a roofwater rain catchment system have been installed on the farm. These water saving devices have resulted in a substantial reduction in labor costs, improved crop yields, and a marked difference in water consumption levels for the farm. In addition, several thousand school children have visited the farm and have learned about these water conservation methods

The following data reports water usage on a monthly basis from January 1995 to May 1998. Some months are missing due to inconsistent readings of the water meter, but a general trend is noticeable. The seasonal fluctuations are due to the differing water needs during the year, and the large numbers of summer visitors.

Water Used Monthly in Gallons:
January 1995: 4260
February 1995: 3190
March 1995: 5500
April 1995: 7520
May 1995 – October 1995: 6518
November 1995 – January 1996: 2631
February 1996 – September 1996: 7178
October 1996: 4960
March 1998: 5828
April 1998: 6300
May 1998: 6940

For the readings that span entire seasons, an average was taken between the readings that began and ended the period.

One of the difficulties in quantifying water usage on the farm is the number of variables involved, including annual rainfall and temperatures, livestock and crops with different needs, different staff with varying water conservation habits, and the number of visitors that come to the farm. Visitors affect the water measurements since 2 public restrooms and a drinking fountain, as well as a kitchen with a dishwasher for program use were measured along with livestock and garden water use.

While our statistics concerning water consumption do not definitively indicate a substantial savings, the benefits in labor and time savings are clear. The following data, derived from averages taken in the months of May and June, record the hours spent each week watering the gardens and livestock before and after implementing the water conservation system.

1995 Growing Season: 25 hours / week
1997 Growing Season: 15 hours / week
1998 Growing Season: 1 hours / week

The gradual reduction in labor parallels the installation of the various components of the water system.

1995 Growing Season: no water saving methods
1997 Growing Season: automatic waterers for livestock installed
1998 Growing Season: drip irrigation systems installed

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:
Dissemination of Findings

See attached booklet: A Guide To Saving Water

This water conservation system is now a part of the regular Woodvale Farm educational curriculum. Staffs are trained to operate the drip systems, teach about water conservation, and lead groups on a tour of the farms’ water system, including the surrounding wetlands. In this way, the findings from this project are conveyed to every school or camp group that visits the farm.

No milestones

Project Outcomes

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

The new water system at Woodvale Farm is especially suitable for small scale growers and home gardeners. The impracticality of automatic waterers and drip irrigation for large scale growers lies primarily in the high initial costs. The use of a drip system, however, can also be incompatible with mechanical cultivation.

For any educational institution that intends to teach about sustainable agriculture, or water conservation, the highly visible and accessible devices that were installed are well suited to a resource conservation curriculum.

Economic Analysis

The methods chosen for the project were relatively expensive to purchase and install. The automatic waterers and drip irrigation system require a high initial investment, but the benefits in labor and water savings outweigh the initial costs. The labor and materials for this project totaled $4276.00.

Before installation of these devices, approximately 25 hours a week were required to irrigate crops and water livestock, at an estimated cost of $175.00 ( at a $7.00 / hour rate). At present, the same tasks require 1 hour a week, at a cost of $7.00 a week. This represents an annual savings of $4844.00, for a growing season from April through October (28 weeks).

The data compiled for water usage was less conclusive, but a comparison of gallons used in the month of April between the years 1995 and 1998 show that less water is being used. The economic benefits os reduced water consumption from a well are mostly tangential, such as less wear on the equipment, which means less money spent on repairs, replacement parts, and operating costs.

Depending upon the scale of the operation, these methods may or may not be economically advantageous.

Farmer Adoption

Teacher Evaluations

Throughout the 1998 spring season, visiting teachers were asked to evaluate the water conservation system based on its value as an educational tool. Of the 35 evaluations received, 30 teachers rated the system a 5 out of 5, and 5 teachers rated it a 4 out of 5.
( 5 indicates “ of great educational value” and 1 indicates “of little educational value”) Additionally, several teachers and adult chaperones have commented that they would like to install a drip irrigation system in their home gardens, and asked for tips and suppliers.

Areas needing additional study

An abundance of literature exists for designing water systems for the farm and garden, but relatively little has been written about the development of schools and educational farms as examples of sustainable farming systems.

Valuable areas of study could be curriculum development in the public and private schools in conjunction with outdoor study sites (school garden, farm, etc.), and the design of these educational sites to best illustrate sustainable agriculture principles.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.