The History of Irrigation in the United States
1 Jul 19
1 Jul 19
Remember going to the beach as a kid? You have your pail and shovel in tote, ready to engineer the best sandcastle ever constructed.
You lay the foundation far enough away from the waves to protect your design from destruction, but you also want to guard your work of art with a moat. So you take your shovel and start to dig a shallow canal from the ocean to the sandcastle. As the waves crash inland, it carries water through the canal and into the moat.
You smile. Your sandcastle now has a strong line of defense.
You also just successfully participated in a centuries-old method of transporting a water source to a dry section of land called irrigation!
The earliest traces of irrigation in the United States go back as far as 1200 BC in the desert and plains of modern-day Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. The Las Capas site, located close to Tucson, Arizona, shows America’s earliest form of discovered irrigation. A network of canals filtered into many small fields that stretched to a territory of roughly 100 acres.
Archaeologists believe the Las Capas community near present-day Tucson totaled a sum of under 200 people. The Hohokam society, which lived in the valleys of the Gila and Salt Rivers of Arizona, is believed to be the ancestors to the Las Capas people.
(Irrigation canals were dug by early Native Americans to transport water to fields of crops.)
The Hohokam community is regarded to have been the most successful agricultural farmers in the Southwest’s history, dating as late as the mid-1400s. The farming society developed an extensive grid of canals to feed water from the river sources into their fields. These canals measured 30 feet wide and 12 feet deep and traveled as far as 20 miles throughout the river valley.
Around the same time as the Hohokam society, the Native American groups of the Mogollon and Puebloans also saw farming success due to irrigation.
This method of irrigation combines small, shallow channels of water downhill. This type of irrigation is typically used in straight lines and rests between the beds of crops.
A self-propelled system that includes a single pipeline that sits two to four meters off the ground, delivers water to a circular section of crops as attached towers rotate around the pivot point.
(Center-pivot irrigation is a common type of irrigation in American agriculture.)
Normally used in vineyards and orchards, this form of irrigation usually buries pipelines below the surface, and sprinkler nozzles are placed above surface level to provide water.
A large sprinkler, which is fed by a long rubber hose is attached to a trailer and then guided along a lane of crops by a cable.
This method of watering plants and crops encompasses drip and trickle irrigation where small diameter tubes are placed above or below the surface. Slow and regular supplies of water are added to the soil through the narrow tubes. This form of irrigation applies water directly to the root of the crop.
Flexibility in the system of transportation of water to crops/plants
Helps produce higher quality crops
Lengthens growing season
Maximizes fertilizer applications
Allows for cultivation in areas that might otherwise be deemed uninhabitable for crops/plants
Insurance against natural droughts and weather fluctuation
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