Wireless Automated Control of Surface Irrigation Systems for Improved Irrigation Efficiency

Project ID: 8969
Principal Investigator: Tom Gill
Research Topic: Agriculture Water Supplies
Priority Area Assignments: 2012 (Climate Adaptation)
Funded Fiscal Years: 2011, 2012 and 2013
Keywords: None

In this photo, 86-68460 Engineer Dale Lentz (left) is working with staff of the University of California Desert Research and Extension Service installing a hydraulically operated field turnout at the field test site near Holtville CA.  The hydraulically operated field turnout was developed at Reclamation's Hydraulics Laboratory by 86-68460 engineers.  This turnout is one of four flow control technologies that are being tested as part of this automated surface irrigation project.<br>[<a href='imagepop.cfm?id=8969|468' target='_blank' style='color:#bbb'>view information</a>]

Research Question

Can a cost-effective system be developed that can enhance efficiency of surface irrigation systems and reduce surface runoff and that uses increasingly affordable wireless technologies to communicate irrigation water advancement rates to identify appropriate timing for changing water applications from one field section to the next?

This proposal follows a similar ongoing effort (Project 3877) in which prototype automated surface irrigation systems were initiated in southern Arizona and southern California utilizing hard-wired linkage between a central control point and all canal gate and canal measurement structures. This followup effort would capitalize on knowledge gained and on setbacks experienced with the earlier efforts.

Need and Benefit

Needs and benefits cited in the 3877 project remain valid: approximately 95% of the land under irritation in the Lower Colorado Region remains under some form of surface irrigation. Much contemporary discussion of improved irrigation efficiency is associated with sprinkler and drip irrigation systems. Associated energy requirements of pressurized systems needed from sprinkler and drip systems are rarely examined as an offsetting factor of water application efficiency gains. The proposed technology to improve efficiency of surface irrigation systems would be energy neutral.

Surface irrigation systems remain predominant in the large irrigated areas of southern Arizona and southern California. In this region, where competition between agriculture and growing municipalities for finite water supplies can only become more intense, improvements to efficiency of surface irrigation systems would be highly beneficial.

A key drawback to the hard-wired configuration utilized for the 3877 project prototypes is an inherent lack of portability. Much of the irrigated land in the region is operated by tenant producers, who would realize many of the benefits the automated system could offer. Components of a wireless system would be designed to facilitate removal of equipment for reinstallation at a different location in the event of changing agreements between landowners and tenants. Similarly, the portability of a wireless system would enable an owner/producer to relocate the system for any reason this might be desirable. By moving away from a hard wired system, it will also be much easier for individual stations to configure as components that could greatly simplify installation tasks and skills required.

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

Bureau of Reclamation Review

The following documents were reviewed by experts in fields relating to this project's study and findings. The results were determined to be achieved using valid means.

Radio Telemetered Flow Monitoring and Canal Control Technologies (final, PDF, 341KB)
By Tom Gill
Publication completed on September 30, 2013

This bulletin summarizes the research results and potential application to Reclamation's mission.

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Last Updated: 6/22/20