a milestone for our irrigation system

November 26th, 2012 by brooke

Irrigation is one of the most important parts of farming. Having a functional system that delivers the appropriate amount of water at the appropriate time is one of the main contributing factors to any crop’s success.

Setting up our irrigation system has not been simple. Like every step of urban farming, there has been bureaucracy to navigate and city policies to push. When we signed the lease at 203 Cotter, there was no water meter onsite, which meant that there was nowhere to hook up a hose or drip line. There was no water access at all. After the first few months of tilling the ground, we had made good friends with some of our neighbors, one of whom generously agreed to let us install an irrigation system off of his backyard water hookup. We of course agreed to reimburse him for all the water used, which is what we have been doing every month up to this point.

This was a great solution except for the fact that our water bills have been extremely high. This is because we reimburse our neighbor for everything over and above his normal monthly use, which means the water we use is always in the higher use-tier and thus is a billed at a higher rate. As is residential policy, we are charged not only for the water we use but for the subsequent sewage treatment of the water as well. Of course all of the water we use permeates into the water table rather than going down the drain, but because of the complicated scenario of piping water over property lines, it was difficult for us to qualify for the water department’s Landscape Irrigation rebate.  (We eventually did so successfully, and have begun receiving this rebate just this season.)  Another issue with borrowed water is that our pressure has been unreliable especially to the fields that are farthest away from the source.

We looked into having our own water meter installed on the property so that we could begin paying an interruptor rate  (a service that can be shut off in the case of drought but is billed at a much lower rate and would be more manageable for a farm business). However, the price tag on that installation was over $8,000 — too much for a small business like ours without secure land tenure!

Back in the summer of 2010, we met with some directors of various SFPUC programs to see if we qualified for any reduction of fees for a new water meter installation.  Although the SFPUC is very supportive of our work and believes in our efforts, they were not able to make a donation of this kind to a business without some kind of program or accessible public process. The following year they announced the introduction of a new grant program which allowed us to apply for funding to cover the costs of the meter installation. We were the first garden to apply for the program and had our meter installed this summer.

After this though, there was still more work to be done (and a couple thousand dollars still to spend) before we could use water from our own meter. We needed to install a backflow prevention device, dig hundreds of feet of trench, lay pipe and hook it up to our current drip system. And of course we had to get permits, inspections and certifications from the city to do the work legally and make sure the final product was up to code.

This was still a lot of resource to put into a property that we still have no secure lease on. So it took us a few months of thinking and discussing to be ready to take the next step. Ultimately we realized that we want this land to be farmed into the future even if we are not the ones to do it. We realized that our business was suffering from not having efficient and reliable irrigation and that if we wanted our business to live up to its full potential, and/or set this land up for any other farming endeavor in the future, we needed the foundation of a good farm — a proper irrigation system.  

The good news is that when we decided to go for it we found the best landscaper/plumber in San Francisco, Peter Good of Goodscapes who was willing to spearhead the process. Peter and his crew were extremely generous with their time and expertise because they believe in our work and wanted to give us a boost of support. Peter took care of obtaining the permits. The Goodscapes crew came out for a few full days over the course of this past month with a jackhammer, a ditch-witch, soldering tools, pipe cutters, trench shovels and hundreds of feet of PVC. We learned a lot about irrigation systems through working with them and following their lead. We are extremely grateful to them for making a potentially time-consuming and all-encompassing project move briskly and smoothly.

One response to “a milestone for our irrigation system”

  1. Paula Bee says:

    Congrats on the irrigation system. That is a big deal.

    And thanks for bringing your stickers out to the market. I’m totally enjoying them – especially the “Reclaim Agriculture” sticker.

    Do you have mini hoops in the picture above, or are those just floating row covers?

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