Planning for the water needs of 2013 will be the primary topic this week when producers, water district planners and representatives of agriculture support industries gather for the 2011 Texas Irrigation Expo set to get underway Dec. 9-10 at the McAllen Convention Center.

Dr. Juan Enciso, a Texas AgriLife Research irrigation engineer in Weslaco, says the water squeeze could hit water districts hard in 2013 as a result of another potentially dry 2012, and he says water conservation is an important issue for landowners and homeowners alike. He says the Expo is designed to educate and inspire producers and the general public to take an active role in water conservation efforts. A full schedule of special presentations is being offered and the latest in irrigation technologies will be discussed and demonstrated at a number of exhibits and special programs at the Expo.

“There is no silver bullet when it comes to solving water problems and it is difficult to get ag producers, homeowners and industry to embrace change. But conservation of our natural resources is our best strategy if we don’t want to find ourselves in a position of being out of water,” says Dr. Robert Mace, deputy executive administrator of the Texas Water Development Board. Mace is scheduled to open the Expo with a presentation about the latest conservation initiatives in Texas.

He says producers must learn to employ water more efficiently and must be willing to embrace new technologies to cope with the growing demand on resources.

“I acknowledge that in recent years we have done a fair job in employing methods to conserve our natural resources, but I believe we can do more - must do more. We are looking hard at more efficient irrigation methods and better ways to minimize water loss through evaporation. Technology and better planning will lead the way for better water efficiency in the years ahead. But we need to start now because the clock is running out,” he said.

Mace says a promising conservation technique currently underway involves rainwater harvesting. He says collecting rainwater for household use is nothing new, but largely overlooked in modern times. And while rainwater collection is best suited for household use or on the lawn and in the garden, there are also applications for the farm, including water for livestock use.

“Some people say it is goofy to talk about rainwater harvesting during a time of drought, but I disagree. Every ounce of water we save is an ounce of water we can still use, and flushing toilets and watering the lawn can use a great deal more water than we realize. Efficiency in our water use is a key component to preserving our water resources,” Mace added.

He says the Hill Country of Central Texas is leading the way nationally in demonstrating the effectiveness of rainwater harvesting. Many rural homes and barns still have old cistern tanks and collection systems in place as they were widely used across the region over the last 200 years, and many new homes are incorporating collection systems.

“With a little work, these systems are being put back into use and the amount of groundwater saved as a result can be very surprising,” Mace said.

He illustrated the savings by noting a suburban homeowner near Boerne, Texas, who installed a large cistern system at his new home and collected nearly 50,000 gallons of water in recent years, and still has 25,000 gallons in the tank.

On Saturday, Dec. 10, the Expo program includes a presentation from Texas AgriLife Extension Program Specialist Brent Clayton, who will be highlighting rainwater harvesting efforts in Texas.

In addition to applications for agriculture, the Expo is open to homeowners and garden enthusiasts and the general public. Special programs for students and special interest groups are also scheduled.

For producers, five Texas Department of Agriculture continuing education units will be available in pesticide record keeping, pesticide laws and regulations, crop insect management, herbicide brush control, and general brush and weed control.

The Texas Irrigation Expo is the cooperative effort of the Texas Water Development Board, the Harlingen Irrigation District and the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.