July Is Smart Irrigation Month

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July is typically the month when the most water is used for landscape irrigation. This can account for 50 to 80 percent of the water used in a home during summer months. Much of this is often wasted through selection of improper plant materials and/or inefficient landscape watering practices -- including runoff.

As a result, the Irrigation Association (IA) has named July Smart Irrigation Month to draw attention to use of efficient irrigation technologies and practices.

The High Plains Water District (HPWD) is celebrating this month by sharing tips to help homeowners reduce the amount of water used outdoors.

You can save water in your landscape by implementing some of these practices:

  • Conduct an annual irrigation audit to make sure your system is working efficiently.

  • Replace water-intensive plants with drought-tolerant or native varieties.

  • Use smart technologies to help manage water use. Rain sensors, soil moisture probes, and smart controllers can help you with water management decisions.

  • Water deeply and less frequently to make your turf more resistant to drought and/or foot traffic.

  • Install a rainwater harvesting system to offset your use of groundwater or municipal water supplies.

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Smart Irrigation Month is not just for homeowners. The Irrigation Association also has some helpful tips for agricultural producers.

  • Take advantage of cost-share programs, such as the USDA-NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

  • Minimize irrigation water runoff (“tailwater”) from fields.

  • Use telemetry equipment to improve irrigation scheduling.

  • Improve soil management to improve water infiltration and reduce runoff.

“It is important to make sure irrigation systems are properly operated and maintained,” says High Plains Water District Manager Jason Coleman.  “This not only saves money—but it can help reduce waste of the region’s surface water and groundwater resources.  The High Plains Water District encourages persons to use water wisely without waste each day,” he says.

Additional information about Smart Irrigation Month is available at the Irrigation Association’s website (irrigation.org)

 

Irrigation runoff mitigation system patented

COLLEGE STATION – Just as temperatures begin to heat up and lawns begin to seemingly beg for water, Texas A&M AgriLife faculty were recognized at a patent award banquet for their irrigation runoff mitigation system.

With water waste a growing problem nationwide, an interdisciplinary team of engineers, irrigation researchers and turfgrass experts have spent the past two years designing a solution to conserve strained water supplies in municipal landscapes.

Leading the invention were Dr. Ben Wherley, Texas A&M AgriLife Research turfgrass ecologist, and Dr. Jorge Alvarado, Texas A&M University department of engineering technology and industrial distribution professor, both in College Station.

Other team members on the project were Dr. Richard White and Jim Thomas, both retired from Texas A&M’s soil and crop sciences department; Dr. Casey Reynolds, formerly with AgriLife Research; Dr. Fouad Jaber, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service engineering specialist, Dallas; and Dean Tate and Junfeng Men, both former engineering students.

The team’s objective was to design a reliable, durable and low-cost Landscape Irrigation Runoff Mitigation System, or LIRMS, that could minimize irrigation runoff losses from residential or commercial landscapes.

Feedback control systems for automated irrigation systems have been limited to soil moisture sensors, weather-based evapotranspiration controllers and rain sensors, Wherley said. A need existed for a system to control scheduled irrigated delivery based on detected irrigation-water runoff.

“In a series of tests comparing LIRMS-controlled irrigation versus industry standard irrigation practices at our runoff measurement facility, the LIRMS was able to reduce landscape runoff by up to 50% during a typical 1-inch irrigation event,” he said.

LIRMS quickly detects and responds to the early stages of runoff, pausing irrigation and generating an automated cycle soaking through the duration of the allotted run period, thus mitigating significant runoff fluxes, Wherley said.

With LIRMS control during an irrigation event, 30 minutes of irrigation may require a few hours to apply, depending on the potential for runoff in a given landscape, he said.

“However, the result is more water ending up in the soil, and less in the storm sewers,” Alvarado said.

The LIRMS system detects flow of water through a boundary, which may be a curb or the junction of two adjoining properties, he said. A controller is operatively coupled to the irrigation system and the sensor. Responsive to the sensor detecting flow of water through the boundary above a predefined threshold, the controller signals the irrigation system to pause irrigation.

“We know urban and/or municipal water use will continue to represent a significant portion of overall water demand in Texas, especially given the rapid pace of urban growth in the state,” Wherley said. “And while most municipalities prohibit irrigation runoff, enforcing it is a challenge.”

Both Alvarado and Wherley said there is still room for improvement in the system.

“Our future efforts will seek to improve efficiency of the system in terms of recognizing appropriate lengths of pause periods based on ambient soil moisture, soil texture, slope and other factors by using artificial intelligence to simply recognize when soil saturation has been achieved based on the runoff dynamics,” Alvarado said.

“As population growth places greater strains on potable water, we believe LIRMS has enormous potential to help water conservation efforts for communities throughout the country.” Wherley said.

LIRMS is composed of a sensor as well as a controller and these would be installed by a professional irrigation contractor when a new system is installed, or as an add on to an existing irrigation system, he said.

“Since no company has licensed the technology yet, the devices we have now are simply prototypes,” Wherley said. “A professional company might improve the device and make it look completely different than it does now. But our patent covers any type of system that controls irrigation in response to detected runoff.”

The product is available for licensing through Texas A&M’s Technology Commercialization website https://tinyurl.com/y2d3wxhe.

Improving Irrigation Efficiency with Telemetry

By Katherine Drury, HPWD Conservation Connect

There have been many advances in irrigation technology during the past century. Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) center pivot systems and subsurface drip irrigation have taken the place of furrow irrigation with open, unlined ditches. With irrigation application efficiencies nearing 100 percent, researchers and irrigation equipment manufacturers are turning their attention to improved system monitoring and scheduling.

Telemetry technology, allowing remote monitoring and control of center pivot and subsurface drip irrigation systems, is an emerging trend among producers. The most basic systems allow the producer to remotely monitor an irrigation system and turn it on or off by clicking a button on his phone or computer. The more advanced telemetry systems can incorporate soil moisture information and weather data to help a producer schedule irrigation.

Jonathan James, a cotton and wheat producer in Floyd and Crosby Counties, utilizes monitoring technology on his irrigation systems. He said this equipment has been a valuable addition to his operation. “Mrs. FieldNet,” as James’ wife calls it, frequently sends him text messages about the status of his irrigation systems. This keeps him in the loop, if a system fails.

Earlier this summer, he and his family were about to take a day trip out of town. As always, he checked his irrigation systems that morning before leaving.

“I drove by a system with one of the monitors on it,” James said. “Everything was fine. The monitor said it was fine. Visually, it was running.”

He drove to check on the final center pivot. After ensuring that it was working properly, he turned around to go home before leaving town.

“That one pivot that I had driven by ten minutes earlier texted me that it had shut off,” he said. “I stopped by and had it fixed in about 30 minutes. If I had been without the monitoring system, the pivot would’ve sat there for 24 hours before I made it back again.”

He estimates that he could have lost upwards of half a million gallons of water down the turn row had he not been immediately notified of the irrigation system malfunction.

James manages 19 center pivots. He drives about three hours every day to check on each of his fields and irrigation systems. He said this telemetry equipment helps him prioritize his route.

“I farm from north of Lorenzo to south of Dougherty. It takes me about three hours to make a circle to see every one of them. I still go to every one every day, but if I get up and see that one is off, I know I’m going there first and then make my circle rather than going around and showing up there at 11 o’clock. That’s another four or five hours it might have saved me.”

He said irrigation systems can shut down for a variety of reasons, which range from getting stuck in the mud to power surges. He estimates that on average, one of his systems malfunctions every day during the irrigation season. The ability to remotely communicate with his irrigation systems has been invaluable.

“The amount of time that it saves you and the information you collect from it is such a useful tool.”

Telemetry allows producers to track when their systems were turned on or off and how long they are in operation. This data can be exported and evaluated with each data point serving as an opportunity to learn and refine the process for next season.

“Efficiency is the name of the game in farming. Every year, we’re trying to squeeze just a little more and a little more, and this increases my efficiency of keeping machines running.”

RCPP funds available for irrigation monitoring equipment

Are you interested in adding telemetry-based monitoring equipment to the irrigation system on your farm?  If so, stop by your local USDA-NRCS service center to ask about cost-share funding available through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

This equipment, typically used with a center pivot or subsurface drip irrigation system, allows monitoring data to be transmitted by telemetry to smart phones, tablets, or other handheld devices. These data help determine if irrigation systems are operating at peak efficiency - which results in water and energy savings for producers.

The RCPP program is an option for producers that were unable to receive funding from HPWD's Assistance in Irrigation Management (AIM) program. The $225,000 in grant funding provided by the Texas Water Development Board was claimed by producers in less than two weeks after the program was announced in August.

This equipment is being cost-shared through RCPP, which is administered by the USDA-NRCS, and requires "a flow meter to be installed on the irrigation system where the irrigation system monitoring system is installed as a companion device."  If a contract is awarded, payment for these practices cannot be made until the first year's monitoring data are provided to the NRCS.

About $900,000 in funding was allocated for the five year program (2016-2020). As of Dec. 8, USDA-NRCS officials said the agency has obligated 39 contracts totaling $227,208 on 24,772 acres. This leaves $672,792 in available funds for the remainder of the program.

Participation in RCPP is entirely voluntary. Interested producers can sign up for the program at their local USDA-NRCS service center.

High Plains Underground Water Conservation District (HPWD) in Lubbock serves as the lead RCPP partner. Supporting partners include Hemphill County UWCD in Canadian, Llano Estacado UWCD at Seminole, Mesa UWCD at Lamesa, North Plains GCD at Dumas, Sandy Land UWCD at Plains, and South Plains UWCD at Brownfield.

These groundwater conservation districts do not receive any funding for the program, but provide in-kind services to assist with water conservation efforts.

Additional information about RCPP is available at www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov. USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.