Kenny Nelson, KBID Manager, Featured in Irrigation Leader

Ken Nelson, Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District (2), Courtland, Kansas was recently featured in Irrigation Leader  on page 22.

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Kenneth “Kenny" Nelson, standing at the overlook of Lovewell Dam, KBID’s holding reservoir.
Kenneth “Kenny” Nelson, standing at the overlook of Lovewell Dam, KBID’s holding reservoir.

The Kansas-Bostwick Irrigation District No. 2 (KBID) delivers water to soybean and corn growers over 43,000 acres in north-central Kansas. Ken Nelson leads a crew of 14 to oversee operations and maintenance on the district and has been working continuously to conserve its precious water resources. Irrigation Leader’s editor-in-chief, Kris Polly, spoke with Ken about his district, water conservation, and the pivot revolution.

Kris Polly: What are some of the conservation efforts that KBID is currently undertaking?

Ken Nelson: Our biggest effort is burying laterals.We have 100 miles of main canal and 150 miles of laterals in the district.

Over the past 20 years, we have converted 90 miles of laterals into pipe. We’ve buried pipe ranging from 27-inch diameter down to 8-inch. We have done that with our own talented crew.

Back in the 1990s, we developed what we call the 70/30 plan. The irrigators pay 70 percent of the cost of the materials, and the district pays the remaining 30 percent and provides all of the equipment and labor to bury the pipe. The program is very popular and works well for laterals 15 inches or smaller.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s 20/25 plan, which facilitated cost sharing to bury laterals, helped us to address burying larger laterals. We have been successful with 20/25 funding and WaterSMART funding. We do the design work ourselves.

At this point, much of our system is buried, but we do have some large laterals that we would like to bury. We hope to be able continue our conservation efforts. We have about 60 total miles left to bury. These are the difficult and expensive ones.

The system is up on a plateau. We do not drop off the river bluff as other similar systems do. Our head is not high. It gets more difficult when you have to use pipe sizes larger than 27 inches. You don’t have the gravity to push it through.

There was a marvelous system built here for open canal delivery; when you change that to pipe delivery, you need to have pressure to make it work. We utilize four electric pump systems designed to lift water from one canal system to another. We have converted three of those to pump into pipe.

Kenny Nelson at the measuring flume above Lovewell Dam. KBID is currently bringing Republican River water into Lovewell
Kenny Nelson at the measuring flume above Lovewell Dam. KBID is currently bringing Republican River water into Lovewell to replace the supply used in 2014.

Kris Polly: Do you allot a specific amount of pipe to bury each year?

Ken Nelson: There is no set amount of distance we will cover in a year; it will depend on the difficulty of the lateral that we are burying.

Kris Polly: Are a majority of your farmers putting in pivots?

Ken Nelson: We’ve come a long way with that. Back in the mid-1990s, we saw a need for pivot irrigation in our area. People were coming to us and expressing interest in converting to pivot irrigation. Our fields—and our assessments—weren’t set up in circles. We had to make some policy changes to account for that. [Those changes] helped a great deal to bring pivot irrigation to our area.

Going back to 1990, KBID ran a survey every year to measure irrigation methods and improvements. In 1990, open ditch irrigation was about 46 percent of our district, gated pipe irrigation was about 54 percent, and pivot was less than 1 percent. By the year 2002—12 years later—we had moved to 17 percent open ditch irrigation, 56 percent gated pipe, and 27 percent pivot. Now in 2014, open ditch represents only 1 percent of irrigation type in KBID, gated pipe 34 percent, and pivot 65 percent. Today we have a total of 265 pivots in operation.



Kris Polly: Once you push the button on the pivot, it is hard to pick up a pipe again.

Ken Nelson: It is. And [the move to pivot] has made a tremendous difference for our water savings. Back in the 1990s, we started comparing pivot versus nonpivot water use. The difference was significant for a full supply year: Pivot irrigators used 9 inches per acre on average, while nonpivot irrigators used 15 inches per acre. The pivots really shined in short supply years.

Kris Polly: Do your pivot irrigators have to filter KBID water for their systems?

Ken Nelson: Many years ago, Roy Patterson from Frenchman-Cambridge was using aeration screens out of grain bins in his pumps from the canal. I used that idea by putting 24-inch diameter aeration screens inside our canals. All our buried laterals have those aeration screens on the head end. They are the most popular screening devices in our district. We get them from Ace Irrigation in Kearney.

Kris Polly: What is the most important thing you have learned as a manager of an irrigation district?

Ken Nelson: See the merit in the opinions of those who disagree with you. You can’t resolve those issues unless you can see their point of view. That is true if you are talking about crew members, irrigators or working with the Bureau of Reclamation and the states. Collaboration leads to success.

KBID work crew installing 21” Diamond Plastic pipe in a lateral. KBID purchased the trencher with help from a Bureau of Reclamation Field Service Grant.
KBID work crew installing 21” Diamond Plastic pipe in
a lateral. KBID purchased the trencher with help from a
Bureau of Reclamation Field Service Grant.

More information about the Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District can be found here –