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Crops reap benefits of Pantex irrigation system


Glistening fields of wheat and lush tracts of corn stretch across Pantex land soaking up the Texas sun. Invisible to the eye is what else they’re soaking up – an estimated 900,000 gallons a day of treated wastewater. 

Instead of discharging treated wastewater to a playa lake on Pantex property, Pantex uses an underground irrigation system to water crops grown by Texas Tech University on 300 acres of cultivated land in the northeast section of the Plant. Recent approval by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to add another 100-acre tract to the existing three 100-acre tracts will result in more than 1.2 million gallons per day of water being beneficially reused for agricultural purposes beginning in 2011.

The irrigation system is the product of a partnership between the DOE, B&W Pantex and Texas Tech. Since being placed in full operation in 2005, more than 630 million gallons of treated water has been reused. Crops authorized to be grown at Pantex include wheat, corn, grain sorghum, soybeans, cotton and oats. 

“This type of beneficial reuse is in keeping with the state of Texas’ goals for more efficient use of water on the Texas High Plains, while serving as an important component in meeting and exceeding the U.S. Government’s goals for environmental stewardship,” said Jeff Flowers, B&W Pantex Environmental Stewardship Department manager. 

With the exception of wheat, crops grown at the Pantex subsurface irrigation tracts have been used as components in animal feed. Wheat is combined with other local producer’s wheat and could be distributed nationally or internationally for flour milling purposes. 

Yield results from the beneficial use of this treated wastewater have been impressive, according to Flowers, with above Carson County averages in bushel per acre for wheat, and last growing season, a Carson County record in density per bushel for corn. 

The 100-acre tract to be added to the underground irrigation system will help dispose of water generated by the Plant’s groundwater remediation efforts. Upgrades to the current three 100-acre tracts also are being implemented, including installation of more robust piping, higher-capacity pumps and new wastewater filter banks.