Living Laboratory for Canal Modernization Technologies
Irrigation districts that have incorporated electronic control/telemetry into their operations frequently relate that a costly aspect of adopting the technology has been "finding out what works." Reclamation's Hydraulic Investigations and Laboratory Services Group staff have repeatedly encountered situations at irrigation districts where installed equipment is only partially functional, where use of the equipment has been entirely abandoned, or where equipment malfunctions have resulted in damage claims well in excess of the acquisition cost of the equipment. The objective of this Science and Technology (S&T) Program research project is generate information for irrigation districts (and others) to address the following questions:
* What are the capabilities, limitations, and reliability expectations of canal modernization equipment alternatives?
* What level of in-house technical capabilities are needed to operate/maintain (and possibly modify functions) for the respective equipment alternatives?
* Which alternatives could fit our district's objectives and capabilities?
Need and Benefit
Identifying the appropriate canal modernization equipment for an agricultural water system takes in a broad range of considerations. Affordability, ability to perform needed functions, and reliability are readily identifiable concerns. Other, less obvious issues may be of equal importance to long-term success of adoption of the technology. The relative complexity (or simplicity) of modifying functions, of troubleshooting component failure, and of similar operating and maintenance tasks are frequently the factors that differentiate between a system that provides a high level of service over an extended period of time and a system that provides full service for a limited time and then is partially used or completely abandoned by the irrigation district. Case studies of less-than-completely successful adoption of electronic-based canal modernization technologies are frequently encountered.
In the proposers' experiences of providing technical assistance on canal modernization to irrigation districts, perhaps the most frequently asked question is, "Where can we go to find out what works?" The same topic is similarly expressed as "The most costly aspect of our project was finding out what works." Statements of this nature are frequently accompanied by accounts of a variety of components that have been tried and discarded until something that performs suitably is identified. In addition, accounts of substantial damage claims resulting from malfunction/failure of system components in some cases represent costs as great or in excess of what was budgeted for the entire modernization project.
To adequately answer the question "What works?" one needs to have considerable information about the site and intended application. Perhaps more importantly, one needs to have a feel for who will be operating and maintaining the system. This information needs to be weighed against a knowledge of the various available equipment options and a familiarity with the level of training needed to interact with the respective equipment. There is no ready convenient source for this information. The best available information of this nature resides at irrigation districts where the various technologies are in service. The bulk of this information is only available by word of mouth. The objective of this research project is to generate and document this type of information in addition to disseminating first-hand information through field day settings. In one proximity, a variety of equipment could be observed in operation in a project which will be operated by actual irrigation districts, while performance data will be accumulated in a database using research protocols.
Currently, there is no such information source. Recognizing that canal modernization technologies are evolving, there is a need for an on-going effort like this in order to produce information current with the technology. This information has broad application across virtually every Reclamation project.
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