Prototype Development and Field Testing/Demonstroation of Automated Delivery Systems Compatible with Improved Efficiency Application of Irrigation Water

Project ID: 434
Principal Investigator: Tom Gill
Research Topic: Agriculture Water Supplies
Funded Fiscal Years: 2004, 2005 and 2006
Keywords: None

Research Question

* Can methods be developed to improve delivery systems to coordinate with demands of field applications?

Need and Benefit

With traditional surface irrigation methods, significant portions of applied irrigation water are "lost" to deep percolation or end-of-field runoff, resulting in low water use efficiency. Positive aspects of surface irrigation include:

* Lower energy consumption

* Less sensitivity to sediments and floating debris

* More tolerance of fluctuations in delivery rate when compared with pressurized application systems such as sprinkler or drip irrigation

Water use efficiency competitive with sprinkler or drip systems is possible with surface irrigation systems that are designed for water to be applied uniformly and rapidly. This has been accomplished by shortening the travel distance, (i.e., making fields smaller), and is further enhanced by making fields as flat as possible--known as "level basin irrigation."

Improved efficiency surface irrigation using these methods has been largely confined to projects with comparatively large available flows that enable a manageable field size, (less than 10 acres). In many parts of the Western United States, the small field sizes that would be dictated by available flow rates would dramatically increase irrigation labor requirements. Water efficiency, energy consumption, and impacts on field equipment usage are important considerations in selection of an agricultural water application system, but irrigation labor costs are typically the dominant economic consideration.

The development and availability of an automated turnout system for improved efficiency surface irrigation systems can be a catalyst for broader adoption of this low energy consumption/high efficiency irrigation methodology. An additional benefit of the surface irrigation systems is increased flexibility for a delivery system due to the comparably high tolerance for fluctuations in delivery rate. In contrast, the narrow tolerance demands placed on delivery canals serving sprinkler and drip systems can be unrealistic to meet without spills or construction of re-regulation reservoirs that are costly to build and operate.

Irrigated agriculture remains an area of high potential for improving efficiency of water handling and use, thus effectively expanding available supplies. Approaching this potential requires coordination of delivery system capabilities with improved efficiency application systems demands. (This is the focal point of the Bridging-The-Headgate Alliance in which Reclamation is a partner.) The irrigation methods this automation system is targeted to enhance would pose no additional demands on delivery system when compared with traditional surface irrigation systems. Hence, efficiency gains downstream of the headgate would not be offset upstream of the headgate by increased spills or increased resource consumption in operation of the delivery system. The resulting improvements in management of water and related energy needs are central to Reclamation's mission.

Contributing Partners

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Research Products

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Last Updated: 4/4/17