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News Release

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey

Release: December 15, 1997
Mr. Sandy Williamson
(253) 593-6530, ext. 235

Sprinkler Irrigation Improves Surface-Water Quality

Farmers who use sprinklers to irrigate their crops have helped to decrease runoff of water, soil, and chemicals from cropland, thereby improving water quality of streams and rivers, according to a new fact sheet released by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

In many parts of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project area of Washington State, use of sprinklers has replaced furrow irrigation. In furrow irrigation, gravity transports water through furrows from one end of a field to another, resulting in more runoff of water and soil. The USGS study showed that furrow irrigation is related to higher levels of sediment in streams and rivers.

"Previous studies of the effect of irrigation on runoff were at a much smaller scale, using plots and fields," said Moon H. Kim, USGS hydrologist and lead author of the fact sheet. "Our study was unique in that we analyzed runoff data from nine watersheds."

Excess runoff from agricultural fields hurts crop production and water quality, as fertile soil, nutrients, and pesticides can all be carried into rivers and streams. Sediment in streams degrades habitat for fish, nutrients increase plant growth in streams above normal levels, and toxic pesticides can harm fish and wildlife.

The two-page color fact sheet is a product of the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. NAWQA scientists are assessing water quality in more than 50 river basins and aquifers across the Nation.

Copies of Fact Sheet 080-97 "Irrigation and Surface-Water Quality in the Quincy and Pasco Basins, Washington" by Moon H. Kim and James C. Ebbert are available free from Luis Fuste, Public Information Officer, U. S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Division, 1201 Pacific Avenue, Suite 600, Tacoma, Washington, telephone (253) 593-6510 (or E-mail

Copies are also available at most area Washington State University Cooperative Extension, County Conservation District, and Natural Resources Conservation Service offices. The fact sheet is also available on the World Wide Web at

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