Database for Field Performance of Electronic Water Level Sensors

Project ID: 216
Principal Investigator: Tom Gill
Research Topic: Supporting Irrigation Districts
Priority Area Assignments: 2011 (Climate Adaptation), 2012 (Climate Adaptation)
Funded Fiscal Years: 2011, 2012 and 2013
Keywords: None

Research Question

What water level sensors provide accurate measurements over a sustained period of time in field conditions? With continued expansion and automation of water delivery systems, this question is posed to Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) engineers on a consistent basis.

Need and Benefit

Recent advances in microelectronic technologies are enabling water distribution systems to evolve their management practices. Part of this evolution includes integrating canal system operations with telemetry and data acquisition systems. One vital part in this integration process is using electronic water level sensors to obtain accurate water levels without the need to manually obtain the readings. Unfortunately, as technology enables broader and more reliable integration, water level sensors are the component most prone to failure in any water distribution modernization effort.

During a recent site visit by Reclamation engineers, an irrigation district supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technician articulated the issue with the following statement:

"We spend more money just trying to figure out which level sensors work by trial and error than we spend on any other aspect of system maintenance." Indeed, damage liabilities faced by a district as a result of level sensor failure can readily represent a greater cash outlay than the cost of a SCADA system.

Interest in "which water level sensors work" is commonly encountered as members of the project team make site visits to provide technical assistance to developing or expanding water distribution systems. A viable information resource on this topic can only be developed by documenting the field performance of electronic water level sensing equipment over a sustained period. Such a database would be a valuable resource for any water district using electronic technologies in system operations.

The focus of this proposal was planned as a component of a previously funded project (Science and Technology [S&T] Project #7316), in which Reclamation attempted to work in conjunction with the Irrigation Management Service (IMS) of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (NCWCD) in an effort to demonstrate and field test a broad array of canal modernization technologies. The 7316 project field locations were at small irrigation districts that operate within NCWCD boundaries. At the outset of project 7316, NCWCD participants articulated their institutional constraints that NCWCD staff be the point of contact with cooperating districts. While this contact protocol was reasonable given the inter-relationships between NCWCD and the irrigation districts, it became an impediment to the 7316 project following an internal NCWCD realignment of tasks a year into the project. These realignments limited IMS staff time to be able to contribute to the joint effort.

Another aspect of the 7316 project that proved unwieldy was the broad scope of canal modernization equipment that was envisioned for field demonstration and testing. The attempt to deal with a broad array of equipment came at a cost of limited focus on any specific type of system components. Issues encountered and lessons learned are discussed in greater detail in the "Project Closeout" section for the 7316 project.

Using perspectives gained from previous efforts, this proposed research will narrow the focus of field testing to a critical and most failure-prone component of canal modernization technologies - water level sensors. Direct communication between Reclamation researchers and cooperating irrigation districts will allow a detailed dataset to be collected without risking logistic impairments.

Contributing Partners

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Research Products

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Last Updated: 6/22/20