Tour highlights Smart Ditch, hydro-power and organic farming |

Tour highlights Smart Ditch, hydro-power and organic farming

Amy Hadden Marsh
Citizen Telegram Contributor
Ranchers Don Chaplin (center) and Charles Ryden (far left) take a close look at a Smart Ditch along a county road during a tour of the South Side Conservation District tour on Tuesday, July 15. Mike Kishimoto of the Natural Resource Conservation District (left center) helped design the project.
Amy Hadden Marsh/The Citizen Telegram |

SILT – Don Chaplin may have found a solution to an irrigation problem on his Peach Valley ranch. When a stand of cottonwood trees along his ditch died several years ago, their hollow root systems began funneling water away from his property. He put in 1,000 feet of 18-inch pipe, which curbed 90 percent of the water loss, but he’s still losing between 10 and 20 gallons of the precious liquid every minute. Plus, the ditch tends to clog up with sediment and debris.

That’s why he paid close attention to Mike Kishimoto’s explanation of a Smart Ditch segment during a tour of the South Side Conservation District on Tuesday, July 15.

Kishimoto, a civil engineer for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which cosponsored the tour, told over two dozen participants that Smart Ditch is basically a corrugated plastic liner that stops leaks and allows water to flow through a ditch unimpeded by plants, rocks, sediment and other debris. He said this particular segment, part of a county road project south of Silt, captures tail water from sprinkler irrigation and brings it back to the fields.

“You can’t get tail water to go into a pipe,” he explained. “So this is a perfect use for Smart Ditch.”

The Smart Ditch demo was part of a five-hour tour, which began with a stop at the 3,200-acre Porter Ranch, along Alkali Creek south of New Castle, and ended at Eagle Springs Organic Farm south of Rifle.

Kishimoto and other district staff and board members joined the tour to point out various projects and answer questions about the district’s mission, services and history.

The South Side Conservation District got its start in August 1953 and covers 241,000 acres of private and government land in Garfield County and the northwest corner of Mesa County. It includes the Alkali, Garfield, Divide and Mamm Creek drainages.

“Basically, it extends from South Canyon to Rifle on the south side of the [Colorado River],” said Dennis Davidson, irrigation water management specialist for the district.

Davidson said that after six decades, hay and livestock continue to be the district’s primary products. But land development, natural gas extraction, gravel pits and deteriorating irrigation systems have had an impact. Davidson added that more pipeline is being used to move water.

“Water is always an issue,” he said.

Due to the elevation of the district, snow doesn’t last as long in the summer as it does in alpine areas. That means run-off season is short. Davidson said the new Multa-Trina and the Highline ditches import irrigation water from other drainages, but only through late spring. And there is no water storage.

“We’ve never had enough water for two or three cuttings of hay,” said Davidson.

hydro-power, organic farming also highlighted

Colorado State Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), was a tour participant, along with Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. Rankin took particular interest in a small-scale, hydro-power generator at the Porter Ranch, which produces six kilowatts of electricity. Water comes from Alkali Creek through a 7,000-foot pipe.

A small, metal wheel acts as a turbine. As the water turns the wheel, electricity is generated, which powers Terry and Mary Porter’s home and a nearby cabin. Excess electricity is sold to Holy Cross Energy. The water is reused for irrigation.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service designed the irrigation system with the hydro-power generator in mind, aid Scot Knutson, an engineer with the agency. Funding for the project came from the conservation service and the federal Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which pays incentives for conservation practices.

“There are approximately 100 small-scale hydro-power projects statewide and a dozen in [House District 57],” said Rankin.

He also praised U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s Hydro-power and Rural Jobs Act, which went into effect last summer.

“Tipton simplified Congressional approval for small-scale hydro-power,” he said. “In my view, it’s a great, untapped source for renewable energy.”

Eagle Springs Organic farm, the final stop of the tour, generates its own power from a solar array that offsets all electricity used on the 1,600-acre farm.

Owner Ken Sack led guests through a two-acre complex of production rooms, coolers and greenhouses, including a tropical grow room, replete with banana, fig and citrus trees, and a fish farm. Sack, whose wife and children are vegan, raises Highland Angus beef, sheep, goats, poultry and pigs on the property, along with vegetables, herbs, flowers and hay. All food products are sold at the farm’s store or served at the café and steak house in Rifle.

Sack hopes to open an abattoir in the coming months to slaughter and pack his own meat and poultry as well as that of other ranchers. The small, white and very clean building was a big draw for tour guests, many of whom had never been inside a slaughterhouse.

Sack said he still has to install a few things to meet county code standards, then have the facility inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Chaplin said he thinks the Smart Ditch might work for him. And, Terry Porter, who once owned a meat packing plant in Rifle, said he thinks Sack has some good ideas.

“He’s doing things and trying things. It’s what a lot of people would like to do,” he said. “I like the idea of there still being dreamers out there.”

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