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Nov. 29, 2020 | Sunday
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Town irrigation app makes life easier for farmers
Environmental services supervisor Brett Ruck spent the last four years designing the app. (Sourced)

In a quest to get Niagara-on-the-Lake’s farmers more water for irrigation, Brett Ruck faced a unique challenge — none of them wanted to fill out the paperwork to report their water usage.

So Ruck, NOTL's environmental services supervisor, figured out a way to take the paperwork out of it, spending four years designing an app for the town, called eRigator, which helps streamline the process for farmers.

“Nobody likes paperwork,” he said, when he updated council on the app at an Aug. 17 committee of the whole meeting.

“I had to find a way that really connects with not only farmers but anybody in general," Ruck said. Using the app literally puts control in the farmers' hands.

The app allows farmers to generate automatic reports of their water usage by simply clicking a pump on or off using their smartphone. Instead of doing paperwork each time, a farmer only has to input the information about the pump once.

The reports will then be sent automatically to town staff.

Proving how much water the town needs will help the town get access to more water, he said.

The town draws irrigation water from several sources, including the Niagara River, but there is a limit on how much water can be used. Helping to more accurately measure consumption gives the town a better case when asking for more, Ruck said.

The ultimate goal, “is to be able to prove to the (government) ministries we have a greater need.”

“I can use these analytics to be able to prove that we need it, and how badly,” he said.

He said most people who have used the app have been surprised how easy it is, and hopes to get 60 to 70 per cent of farmers on board.

He said 146 farms use the town’s irrigation system — about 80 to 85 per cent of farms in town.

One of the main reasons some farmers aren’t using the town’s water is because the municipality can’t always provide it, he said.

“That’s probably the largest single thing I have going on with the farmers, (them) being able to say, ‘We pay for water, but you never deliver it.' ”

Ruck said sometimes now when people want water, “it’s just not there.”

“There’s always somebody at the top end, there’s always somebody at the bottom end. So when you’re at the bottom end. You’re constantly struggling to find the scraps of water that are left. The guys in the top end love it because it’s always there first for them to use. So being able to put more water in the system will probably get a greater buy-in overall.”

He said the Ministry of Agriculture “loves this app.”

“They wish that it could be just marketed out there, but as I keep telling them, it’s got the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake logo on it for a reason.”

He said town staff developed the app “in combination with an outside source.”

Ruck said the town is in a renewal year for the town’s water allowance contract, so he’s trying to get more.

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