“We currently don’t use a significant amount of water in Alabama to support agriculture. But if you look at worldwide use of water, and even states that are adjacent to Alabama, you’ll see that agriculture is the 800-pound gorilla — it is the primary consumptive use of water.”

In Western states and in adjoining states like Mississippi and Georgia, water demand for irrigation is the major water-related issue, says Fowler.

“The growth of irrigation in Alabama needs to be closely monitored. We think that in some cases — especially with small watersheds — there has to be some mechanism in place to actually regulate the growth of irrigation at the smaller watershed level.”

This needs to be written into Alabama’s water management plan, he says. “Alabama’s water management plan needs to provide the mechanisms and tools for monitoring and for regulating the growth of irrigation in the state.”

Real-time water availability monitoring tools will be needed, says Fowler. “We need a state-level irrigation tracking system so we can monitor the growth of irrigation where it’s happening, whether producers are using groundwater or surface water as a water resource.

“We need incentives to encourage the use of best management practices for irrigation. Alabama has a tax incentive, and a recent modification to that incentive encourages farmers to use best management practices for irrigation.”

The original irrigation tax credit legislation became law in 2012. It allows farmers to claim a maximum tax credit of $10,000 for the installation of irrigation equipment or construction of reservoirs, ponds or wells.

“Farmers can claim the irrigation tax credit over five years from the date a qualifying project is completed. New provisions to the law clarify the process for multiple farm owners claiming the tax credit and allow more farmers to qualify for the tax credit by using direct withdrawal irrigation methods without a reservoir.

Fowler says more support from research and Extension also is needed for the state’s irrigation to expand properly.

“And there needs to be some state-level leadership that is designated specifically to monitor and provide oversight for the growth of irrigation in the state and to insure that it’s done in a way that’s sustainable.”

Alabama, he says, is in a good position to expand irrigation in the right way.

“We’re at a good point in the state right now in that we have a small amount of irrigation, but we want to increase irrigation, and we know how it can done in a way that it is sustainable.