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    Guidelines for designing and evaluating surfaceirrigation systems

    Table of Contents


    by W.R. Walker

    Professor and Head

    Department of Agricultural and Irrigation Engineering

    Utah State University

    Logan, Utah, USA(Consultant to FAO)



    Rome, 1989

    The designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply the

    expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United

    Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning

    the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

    M-56ISBN 92-5-102879-6

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,

    or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or

    otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. Applications for such

    permission, with a statement of the purpose and extent of the reproduction, should be

    addressed to the Director, Publications Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the

    United Nations, Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy.

    FAO 1989')http://-/?-http://-/?-http://openwindow%28%27/documents/en/detail/20964')
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    This electronic document has been scanned using optical character recognition (OCR)

    software and careful manual recorrection. Even if the quality of digitalisation is high, the FAO

    declines all responsibility for any discrepancies that may exist between the present document

    and its original printed version.

    Table of Contents



    1. The practice of irrigation

    1.1 The perspective and objectives of irrigation

    1.2 Irrigation methods and their selection

    1.2.1 Compatibility

    1.2.2 Economics

    1.2.3 Topographical characteristics

    1.2.4 Soils1.2.5 Water supply

    1.2.6 Crops

    1.2.7 Social influences

    1.2.8 External influences

    1.2.9 Summary

    1.3 Advantages and disadvantages of surface irrigation

    1.3.1 Advantages

    1.3.2 Disadvantages

    2. Surface irrigation systems

    2.1 Introduction to surface irrigation

    2.1.1 Definition

    2.1.2 Scope of the guide

    2.1.3 Evolution of the practice

    2.2 Surface irrigation methods

    2.2.1 Basin irrigation

    2.2.2 Border irrigation

    2.2.3 Furrow irrigation

    2.2.4 Uncontrolled flooding

    2.3 Requirements for optimal performance

    2.3.1 Inlet discharge control

    2.3.2 Wastewater recovery and reuse

    2.4 Surface irrigation structures

    2.4.1 Diversion structures

    2.4.2 Conveyance, distribution and management structures

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    2.4.3 Field distribution systems

    3. Field measurements

    3.1 Field topography and configuration

    3.2 Determining water requirements

    3.2.1 Evapotranspiration and drainage requirements

    3.2.2 Soil moisture principles

    3.2.3 Soil moisture measurements

    3.2.4 An example problem on soil moisture

    3.3 Infiltration

    3.3.1 Infiltration functions

    3.3.2 Typical infiltration relationships

    3.3.3 Measuring infiltration

    3.3.4 An example infiltrometer test

    3.4 Flow measurement

    3.4.1 Cutthroat flumes

    3.4.2 Example of cutthroat flume calibration3.4.3 Rectangular thin-plate weirs

    3.4.4 Example of rectangular sharp crested weir analysis

    3.4.5 V-notch weirs

    3.5 Field evaluation

    3.5.1 Advance phase

    3.5.2 Ponding phase or wetting

    3.5.3 Depletion phase

    3.5.4 Recession phase

    4. Evaluation of field data

    4.1 Objectives of evaluation

    4.1.1 Field data

    4.2 Performance measures

    4.2.1 Application uniformity

    4.2.2 Application efficiency

    4.2.3 Water requirement efficiency

    4.2.4 Deep percolation ratio

    4.2.5 Tailwater ratio4.2.6 Integration measures of performance

    4.3 Intermediate analysis of field data

    4.3.1 Inflow-outflow

    4.3.2 Advance and recession

    4.3.3 Flow geometry

    4.3.4 Field infiltration

    4.4 System evaluation

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    4.4.1 Furrow irrigation evaluation procedure

    4.4.2 Border irrigation evaluation

    4.4.3 Basin irrigation evaluation

    4.5 General alternatives for improvement

    4.6 An example furrow irrigation evaluation

    4.6.1 Field infiltration characteristics

    4.6.2 Evaluation of system performance

    4.6.3 Measures to improve performance

    5. Surface irrigation design

    5.1 Objective and scope of design

    5.2 The basic design process

    5.2.1 Preliminary design

    5.2.2 Detailed design

    5.3 Computation of advance and intake opportunity time

    5.3.1 Common design computations

    5.4 Furrow irrigation flow rates, cutoff times, and field layouts

    5.4.1 Furrow design procedure for systems without cutback or reuse

    5.4.2 Design procedure for furrow cutback systems

    5.4.3 Design of furrow systems with tailwater reuse

    5.4.4 Furrow irrigation design examples

    5.5 Border irrigation design

    5.5.1 Design of open-end border systems

    5.5.2 Design of blocked-end borders

    5.5.3 An open-end border design example5.5.4 A blocked-end border design example

    5.6 Basin irrigation design

    5.6.1 An example of basin design

    5.7 Summary

    6. Land levelling

    6.1 The importance of land preparations

    6.2 Small-scale land levelling6.3 Traditional engineering approach

    6.3.1 Initial considerations

    6.3.2 Engineering phase

    6.3.3 Adjusting for the cut/fill ratio

    6.3.4 Some practical problems

    6.3.5 An example problem

    6.4 Laser land levelling

    7. Future developments

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    7.1 Background

    7.2 Surge flow

    7.2.1 Effects of surging on infiltration

    7.2.2 Effects of surging on surface flow hydraulics

    7.2.3 Surge flow systems

    7.3 Cablegation

    7.4 Adaptive control systems

    7.5 Water supply management


    Appendix I - Fortran 77 surface irrigation design program

    FAO irrigation and drainage papers

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    Produced by: Natural ResourcesManagement and Environment Department

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    This guide is intended to serve the needs of the irrigation technician for the evaluation of

    surface irrigation systems. The scope is focussed at the farm level. A limited series of

    graphical and tabular aids is given to relieve the user of some burden of computation.

    Unfortunately, the number of variables associated with surface irrigation prevents this from

    being completely practical. There are also two matters of philosophical nature that have led to

    the approach presented herein. First, the irrigation technician and engineer must understand

    the fundamental interactions characterizing surface flow in order to evaluate, improve, design

    and manage effectively. This suggests a mathematical presentation which briefly andconcisely portrays these interrelationships. This guide omits nearly all theoretical development

    and presents the most basic mathematical description. Nevertheless, the complexity of the

    problem still requires an extensive mathematical analysis, even at this basic level. The

    expertise required of the technician is that of at least a secondary education and the engineer

    whose training needs to be at approximately the BSc level. The second philosophical aspect is

    the belief that irrigation engineering practices are moving steadily toward a computerized

    methodology. The interactions referred to above require large enough computational

    commitments that they are only feasibly evaluated with hand-held programmable calculators

    or microcomputers. As a result, the procedures outlined herein have been presented so they

    can be applied directly via computer. A diskette copy of this program source and executable

    codes for IBM PC and compatible microcomputers is available from FAO.

    Some of the material used to develop this paper is included in more theoretical texts of the

    writer's. Occasionally, direct quotes and figures have been extracted without citation in order

    to minimize the diversions encountered by the reader. When the work of others has been

    used, more careful attention to the detail of the citation has been given. Surface irrigation is a

    complex subject which many have investigated and written about. The purpose of this guide

    was not to review the technical literature exhaustively and many valuable works are not cited,

    but it is hoped that the essence of surface irrigation evaluation and design practice has been

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    This work has been Undertaken under the supervision of Dr. Abdullah Arar, Senior Regional

    Officer, Land and Water Development Division, FAO. His continual support and careful

    attention to the details involved in producing a document such as this are very much

    appreciated. Numerous other staff of the FAO have also contributed to this work through their

    reviews, editorial oversight, and publication.

    In the last decade or so, the methodology of surface irrigation engineering has moved from the

    empirical to the quantitative. This has been accomplished by the concerted efforts ofnumerous researchers and practitioners, some of whom are acknowledged in the

    REFERENCES. However, many others have made substantial contributions. Of these,

    perhaps the graduate students at the universities where surface irrigation technology has been

    extended have been the most unheralded. To those who have worked with the author, special

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    1. The practice of irrigation

    1.1 The perspective and objectives of irrigation

    1.2 Irrigation methods and their selection

    1.3 Advantages and disadvantages of surface irrigation

    1.1 The perspective and objectives of irrigation

    A reliable and suitable irrigation water supply can result in vast improvements in agricultural

    production and assure the economic vitality of the region. Many civilizations have been

    dependent on irrigated agriculture to provide the basis of their society and enhance the

    security of their people. Some have estimated that as little as 15-20 percent of the worldwide

    total cultivated area is irrigated. Judging from irrigated and non-irrigated yields in some areas,

    this relatively small fraction of agriculture may be contributing as much as 3040 percent of

    gross agricultural output.

    Effective agronomic practices are essential components of irrigated systems. Management of

    the soil fertility, cropping selection and rotation, and pest control may make as much

    incremental difference in yield as the irrigation water itself. Irrigation implies drainage, soil

    reclamation, and erosion control. When any of these factors are ignored through either a lack

    of understanding or planning, agricultural productivity will decline. History is absolutely certain

    on this point.

    Irrigated agriculture faces a number of difficult problems in the future. One of the major

    concerns is the generally poor efficiency with which water resources have been used for

    irrigation. A relatively safe estimate is that 40 percent or more of the water diverted for

    irrigation is wasted at the farm level through either deep percolation or surface runoff. These

    losses may not be lost when one views water use in the regional context, since return flows

    become part of the usable resource elsewhere. However, these losses often represent

    foregone opportunities for water because they delay the arrival of water at downstream

    diversions and because they almost universally produce poorer quality water. One of the moreevident problems in the future is the growth of alternative demands for water such as urban

    and industrial needs. These uses place a higher value on water resources and therefore tend

    to focus attention on wasteful practices. Irrigation science in the future will undoubtedly face

    the problem of maximizing efficiency.

    Irrigation in arid areas of the world provides two essential agricultural requirements: (1) a

    moisture supply for plant growth which also transports essential nutrients; and (2) a flow of

    water to leach or dilute salts in the soil. Irrigation also benefits croplands through cooling the

    soil and the atmosphere to create a more favourable environment for plant growth.')http://-/?-http://-/?-http://-/?-http://-/?-http://-/?-http://-/?-http://-/?-http://-/?-http://openwindow%28%27/documents/en/detail/20964')
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    The method, frequency and duration of irrigations have significant effects on crop yield and

    farm productivity. For example, annual crops may not germinate when the surface is inundated

    causing a crust to form over the seed bed. After emergence, inadequate soil moisture can

    often reduce yields, particularly if the stress occurs during critical periods. Even though the

    most important objective of irrigation is to maintain the soil moisture reservoir, how this is

    accomplished is an important consideration. The technology of irrigation is more complex than

    many appreciate. It is important that the scope of irrigation science not be limited to diversion

    and conveyance systems, nor solely to the irrigated field, nor only to the drainage pathways.

    Irrigation is a system extending across many technical and non-technical disciplines. It only

    works efficiently and continually when all the components are integrated smoothly.

    1.2 Irrigation methods and their selection

    1.2.1 Compatibility

    1.2.2 Economics

    1.2.3 Topographical characteristics

    1.2.4 Soils

    1.2.5 Water supply

    1.2.6 Crops

    1.2.7 Social influences1.2.8 External influences

    1.2.9 Summary

    There are three broad classes of irrigation systems: (1) pressurized distribution; (2) gravity

    flow distribution; and (3) drainage flow distribution. The pressurized systems include sprinkler,

    trickle, and the array of similar systems in which water is conveyed to and distributed over the

    farmland through pressurized pipe networks. There are many individual system configurations

    identified by unique features (centre-pivot sprinkler systems). Gravity flow systems convey

    and distribute water at the field level by a free surface, overland flow regime. These surface

    irrigation methods are also subdivided according to configuration and operational

    characteristics. Irrigation by control of the drainage system, subirrigation, is not common but isinteresting conceptually. Relatively large volumes of applied irrigation water percolate through

    the root zone and become a drainage or groundwater flow. By controlling the flow at critical

    points, it is possible to raise the level of the groundwater to within reach of the crop roots.

    These individual irrigation systems have a variety of advantages and particular applications

    which are beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice it to say that one should be familiar with

    each in order to satisfy best the needs of irrigation projects likely to be of interest during their


    Irrigation systems are often designed to maximize efficiencies and minimize labour and capital

    requirements. The most effective management practices are dependent on the type of

    irrigation system and its design. For example, management can be influenced by the use of

    automation, the control of or the capture and reuse of runoff, field soil and topographical

    variations and the existence and location of flow measurement and water control structures.

    Questions that are common to all irrigation systems are when to irrigate, how much to apply,

    and can the efficiency be improved. A large number of considerations must be taken into

    account in the selection of an irrigation system. These will vary from location to location, crop

    to crop, year to year, and farmer to farmer. In general these considerations will include the

    compatibility of the system with other farm operations, economic feasibility, topographic and

    soil properties, crop characteristics, and social constraints (Walker and Skogerboe, 1987).

    1.2.1 Compatibility

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    The irrigation system for a field or a farm must function alongside other farm operations such

    as land preparation, cultivation, and harvesting. The use of the large mechanized equipment

    requires longer and wider fields. The irrigation systems must not interfere with these

    operations and may need to be portable or function primarily outside the crop boundaries (i.e.

    surface irrigation systems). Smaller equipment or animal-powered cultivating equipment is

    more suitable for small fields and more permanent irrigation facilities.

    1.2.2 Economics

    The type of irrigation system selected is an important economic decision. Some types of

    pressurized systems have high capital and operating costs but may utilize minimal labour and

    conserve water. Their use tends toward high value cropping patterns. Other systems are

    relatively less expensive to construct and operate but have high labour requirements. Some

    systems are limited by the type of soil or the topography found on a field. The costs of

    maintenance and expected life of the rehabilitation along with an array of annual costs like

    energy, water, depreciation, land preparation, maintenance, labour and taxes should be

    included in the selection of an irrigation system.

    1.2.3 Topographical characteristics

    Topography is a major factor affecting irrigation, particularly surface irrigation. Of generalconcern are the location and elevation of the water supply relative to the field boundaries, the

    area and configuration of the fields, and access by roads, utility lines (gas, electricity, water,

    etc.), and migrating herds whether wild or domestic. Field slope and its uniformity are two of

    the most important topographical factors. Surface systems, for instance, require uniform

    grades in the 0-5 percent range.

    1.2.4 Soils

    The soil's moisture-holding capacity, intake rate and depth are the principal criteria affecting

    the type of system selected. Sandy soils typically have high intake rates and low soil moisture

    storage capacities and may require an entirely different irrigation strategy than the deep claysoil with low infiltration rates but high moisture-storage capacities. Sandy soil requires more

    frequent, smaller applications of water whereas clay soils can be irrigated less frequently and

    to a larger depth. Other important soil properties influence the type of irrigation system to use.

    The physical, biological and chemical interactions of soil and water influence the hydraulic

    characteristics and filth. The mix of silt in a soil influences crusting and erodibility and should

    be considered in each design. The soil influences crusting and erodibility and should be

    considered in each design. The distribution of soils may vary widely over a field and may be

    an important limitation on some methods of applying irrigation water.

    1.2.5 Water supply

    The quality and quantity of the source of water can have a significant impact on the irrigation

    practices. Crop water demands are continuous during the growing season. The soil moisture

    reservoir transforms this continuous demand into a periodic one which the irrigation system

    can service. A water supply with a relatively small discharge is best utilized in an irrigation

    system which incorporates frequent applications. The depths applied per irrigation would tend

    to be smaller under these systems than under systems having a large discharge which is

    available less frequently. The quality of water affects decisions similarly. Salinity is generally

    the most significant problem but other elements like boron or selenium can be important. A

    poor quality water supply must be utilized more frequently and in larger amounts than one of

    good quality.

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    1.2.6 Crops

    The yields of many crops may be as much affected by how water is applied as the quantity

    delivered. Irrigation systems create different environmental conditions such as humidity,

    temperature, and soil aeration. They affect the plant differently by wetting different parts of the

    plant thereby introducing various undesirable consequences like leaf burn, fruit spotting and

    deformation, crown rot, etc. Rice, on the other hand, thrives under ponded conditions. Some

    crops have high economic value and allow the application of more capital-intensive practices.

    Deep-rooted crops are more amenable to low-frequency, high-application rate systems than

    shallow-rooted crops.

    1.2.7 Social influences

    Beyond the confines of the individual field, irrigation is a community enterprise. Individuals,

    groups of individuals, and often the state must join together to construct, operate and maintain

    the irrigation system as a whole. Within a typical irrigation system there are three levels of

    community organization. There is the individual or small informal group of individuals

    participating in the system at the field and tertiary level of conveyance and distribution. There

    are the farmer collectives which form in structures as simple as informal organizations or as

    complex as irrigation districts. These assume, in addition to operation and maintenance,

    responsibility for allocation and conflict resolution. And then there is the state organizationresponsible for the water distribution and use at the project level.

    Irrigation system designers should be aware that perhaps the most important goal of the

    irrigation community at all levels is the assurance of equity among its members. Thus the

    operation, if not always the structure, of the irrigation system will tend to mirror the community

    view of sharing and allocation.

    Irrigation often means a technological intervention in the agricultural system even if irrigation

    has been practiced locally for generations. New technologies mean new operation and

    maintenance practices. If the community is not sufficiently adaptable to change, some

    irrigation systems will not succeed.

    1.2.8 External influences

    Conditions outside the sphere of agriculture affect and even dictate the type of system

    selected. For example, national policies regarding foreign exchange, strengthening specific

    sectors of the local economy, or sufficiency in particular industries may lead to specific

    irrigation systems being utilized. Key components in the manufacture or importation of system

    elements may not be available or cannot be efficiently serviced. Since many irrigation projects

    are financed by outside donors and lenders, specific system configurations may be precluded

    because of international policies and attitudes.

    1.2.9 Summary

    The preceding discussion of factors affecting the choice of irrigation systems at the farm level

    is not meant to be exhaustive. The designer, evaluator, or manager of irrigation systems

    should be aware of the broader setting in which irrigated agriculture functions. Ignorance has

    led to many more failures or inadequacies than has poor judgement or poor training.

    As the remainder of this guide deals with specific surface irrigation issues, one needs to be

    reminded that much of the engineering practice is art rather than science. Experience is often

    a more valuable resource than computational skill, but both are needed. It is a poor

    engineering practice that leaves perfectly feasible alternatives just beyond one's perspective.

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    1.3 Advantages and disadvantages of surface irrigation

    1.3.1 Advantages

    1.3.2 Disadvantages

    The term 'surface irrigation' refers to a broad class of irrigation methods in which water is

    distributed over the field by overland flow. A flow is introduced at one edge of the field and

    covers the field gradually. The rate of coverage (advance) is dependent almost entirely on thedifferences between the discharge onto the field and the accumulating infiltration into the soil.

    Secondary factors include field slope, surface roughness, and the geometry or shape of the

    flow cross-section.

    The practice of surface irrigation is thousands of years old. It collectively represents perhaps

    as much as 95 percent of common irrigation activity today. The first water supplies were

    developed from stream or river flows onto the adjacent flood plain through simple check-dams

    and a canal to distribute water to various locations where farmers could then allocate a portion

    of the flow to their fields. The low-lying soils served by these diversions were typically high in

    clay and silt content and tended to be most fertile. The land slope was normally small because

    of the structure of the flood plain itself.

    With the advent of modern equipment for moving earth and pumping water, surface irrigation

    systems were extended to upland areas and lands quite separate from the flood plain of local

    rivers and streams. These lands tend to have more variable soils and topographies, are

    usually better drained, and may be naturally less fertile. Thus, these lands usually require

    greater attention to design and operation.

    1.3.1 Advantages

    Surface irrigation offers a number of important advantages at both the farm and project level.

    Because it is so widely utilized, local irrigators generally have at least minimal understanding

    of how to operate and maintain the system. In addition, surface systems are often moreacceptable to agriculturalists who appreciate the effects of water shortage on crop yields since

    it appears easier to apply the depths required to refill the root zone.

    The second advantage of surface irrigation is that these systems can be developed at the

    farm level with minimal capital investment. The control and regulation structures are simple,

    durable and easily constructed with inexpensive and readily-available materials like wood,

    concrete, brick and mortar, etc. Further, the essential structural elements are located at the

    edges of the fields which facilitates operation and maintenance activities. The major capital

    expense of the surface system is generally associated with land grading, but if the topography

    is not too undulating, these costs are not great. Recent developments in surface irrigation

    technology have largely overcome the irrigation efficiency advantage of sprinkler and tricklesystems. An array of automating devices roughly equates labour requirements. The major

    trade-off between surface and pressurized methods lies in the relative costs of land levelling

    for effective gravity distribution and energy for pressurization. Energy requirements for surface

    irrigation systems come from gravity. This is a significant advantage in today's economy.

    Another advantage of surface systems is that they are less affected by climatic and water

    quality characteristics. Even moderate winds can seriously reduce the effectiveness of

    sprinkler systems. Sediments and other debris reduce the effectiveness of trickle systems but

    may actually aid the performance of the surface systems. Salinity is less of a problem under

    surface irrigation than either of these pressurized systems.

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    There are other advantages specific to individual regions that might be mentioned. Surface

    systems are better able to utilize water supplies that are available less frequently, more

    uncertain, and more variable in rate and duration. The gravity flow system is a highly flexible,

    relatively easily-managed method of irrigation.

    1.3.2 Disadvantages

    There is one disadvantage of surface irrigation that confronts every designer and irrigator. The

    soil which must be used to convey the water over the field has properties that are highly varied

    both spatially and temporally. They become almost undefinable except immediately precedingthe watering or during it. This creates an engineering problem in which at least two of the

    primary design variables, discharge and time of application, must be estimated not only at the

    field layout stage but also judged by the irrigator prior to the initiation of every surface irrigation

    event. Thus while it is possible for the new generation of surface irrigation methods to be

    attractive alternatives to sprinkler and trickle systems, their associated design and

    management practices are much more difficult to define and implement.

    Although they need not be, surface irrigation systems are typically less efficient in applying

    water than either sprinkler or trickle systems. Many are situated on lower lands with heavier

    soils and, therefore, tend to be more affected by waterlogging and soil salinity if adequate

    drainage is not provided. The need to use the field surface as a conveyance and distributionfacility requires that fields be well graded if possible. Land levelling costs can be high so the

    surface irrigation practice tends to be limited to land already having small, even slopes.

    Surface systems tend to be labour-intensive. This labour need not be overly skilled. But to

    achieve high efficiencies the irrigation practices imposed by the irrigator must be carefully

    implemented. The progress of the water over the field must be monitored in larger fields and

    good judgement is required to terminate the inflow at the appropriate time. A consequence of

    poor judgement or design is poor efficiency.

    One sometimes important disadvantage of surface irrigation methods is the difficulty in

    applying light, frequent irrigations early and late in the growing season of several crops. For

    example, in heavy calcareous soils where crust formation after the first irrigation and prior tothe germination of crops, a light irrigation to soften the crust would improve yields

    substantially. Under surface irrigation systems this may be unfeasible or impractical as either

    the supply to the field is not readily available or the minimum depths applied would be too


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    Produced by: Natural ResourcesManagement and Environment Department

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    2. Surface irrigation systems

    2.1 Introduction to surface irrigation

    2.2 Surface irrigation methods

    2.3 Requirements for optimal performance

    2.4 Surface irrigation structures

    2.1 Introduction to surface irrigation

    2.1.1 Definition

    Surface irrigation has evolved into an extensive array of configurations which can be broadly

    classified as: (1) basin irrigation; (2) border irrigation; (3) furrow irrigation; and (4) uncontrolled

    flooding. As noted previously, there are two features that distinguish a surface irrigation

    system: (a) the flow has a free surface responding to the gravitational gradient; and (b) the on-

    field means of conveyance and distribution is the field surface itself.

    A surface irrigation event is composed of four phases as illustrated graphically in Figure 1.

    When water is applied to the field, it 'advances' across the surface until the water extends overthe entire area. It may or may not directly wet the entire surface, but all of the flow paths have

    been completed. Then the irrigation water either runs off the field or begins to pond on its

    surface. The interval between the end of the advance and when the inflow is cut off is called

    the wetting or ponding phase. The volume of water on the surface begins to decline after the

    water is no longer being applied. It either drains from the surface (runoff) or infiltrates into the

    soil. For the purposes of describing the hydraulics of the surface flows, the drainage period is

    segregated into the depletion phase (vertical recession) and the recession phase (horizontal

    recession). Depletion is the interval between cut off and the appearance of the first bare soil

    under the water. Recession begins at that point and continues until the surface is drained.

    Figure 1. Time-space trajectory of water during a surface irrigation showing

    its advance, wetting, depletion and recession phases.')http://-/?-http://-/?-http://openwindow%28%27/documents/en/detail/20964')
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    The time and space references shown in Figure 1 are relatively standard. Time is cumulative

    since the beginning of the irrigation, distance is referenced to the point water enters the field.

    The advance and recession curves are therefore trajectories of the leading and receding

    edges of the surface flows and the period defined between the two curves at any distance is

    the time water is on the surface and therefore also the time water is infiltrating into the soil.

    It is useful to note here that in observing surface irrigation one may not always observe a

    ponding, depletion or recession phase. In basins, for example, the post-cut off period may onlyinvolve a depletion phase as the water infiltrates vertically over the entire field. Likewise, in the

    irrigation of paddy rice, an irrigation very often adds to the ponded water in the basin so there

    is neither advance nor recession - only wetting or ponding phase and part of the depletion

    phase. In furrow systems, the volume of water in the furrow is very often a small part of the

    total supply for the field and it drains rapidly. For practical purposes, there may not be a

    depletion phase and recession can be ignored. Thus, surface irrigation may appear in several

    configurations and operate under several regimes.

    2.1.2 Scope of the guide

    The surface irrigation system is one component of a much larger network of facilities diverting

    and delivering water to farmlands. Figure 2 illustrates the 'irrigation system' and some of itsfeatures. It may be divided into the following four component systems: (1) water supply; (2)

    water conveyance or delivery; (3) water use; and (4) drainage. For the complete system to

    work well, each must work conjunctively toward the common goal of promoting maximum on-

    farm production. Historically, the elements of an irrigation system have not functioned well as a

    system and the result has too often been very low project irrigation efficiencies.

    The focus of surface irrigation engineering is at the water use level, the individual irrigated

    field. For design and evaluation purposes, these guidelines will note elements of the

    conveyance and distribution system, especially those near the field such as flow measurement

    and control, but will leave detailed treatment to other technical sources.

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    Figure 2. Typical irrigation system components (redrafted from USDA-SCS,


    2.1.3 Evolution of the practice

    Although surface irrigation is thousands of years old, the most significant advances have been

    made within the last decade. In the developed and industrialized countries, land holdings have

    become as much as 10-20 times as large, and the number of farm families has dropped

    sharply. Very large mechanized farming equipment has replaced animal-powered planting,cultivating and harvesting operations. The precision of preparing the field for planting has

    improved by an order of magnitude with the advent of the laser-controlled land grading

    equipment. Similarly, the irrigation works themselves are better constructed because of the

    application of high technology equipment.

    The changes in the lesser-developed and developing countries are less dramatic. In the

    lesser-developed countries, trends toward land consolidation, mechanization, and more

    elaborate system design and operation are much less apparent. Most of these farmers own

    and operate farms of 1-10 hectares, irrigate with 20-40 litres per second and rely on either

    small mechanized equipment or animal-powered farming implements.

    Probably the most interesting evolution in surface irrigation so far as this guide is concerned isthe development and application of microcomputers and programmable calculators to the

    design and operation of surface irrigation systems. In the late 1970s, a high-speed

    microcomputer technology began to emerge that could solve the basic equations describing

    the overland flow of water quickly and inexpensively. At about the same time, researchers like

    Strelkoff and Katapodes (1977) made major contributions with efficient and accurate

    numerical solutions to these equations. Today in the graduate and undergraduate study of

    surface irrigation engineering, microcomputer and programmable calculator utilization is, or

    should be, common practice.

    Microcomputers and programmable calculators provide several features for today's irrigation

    engineers and technicians. They allow a much more comprehensive treatment of the vital

    hydraulic processes occurring both on the surface and beneath it. One can find optimal

    designs and management practices for a multitude of conditions because designs historically

    requiring days of effort are now made in seconds. The effectiveness of existing practices or

    proposed ones can be predicted, even to the extent that control systems operating, sensing

    and adjusting on a real-time basis are possible.

    2.2 Surface irrigation methods

    2.2.1 Basin irrigation

    2.2.2 Border irrigation

    2.2.3 Furrow irrigation2.2.4 Uncontrolled flooding

    The classification of surface methods is perhaps somewhat arbitrary in technical literature.

    This has been compounded by the fact that a single method is often referred to with different

    names. In this guide, surface methods are classified by the slope, the size and shape of the

    field, the end conditions, and how water flows into and over the field.

    Each surface system has unique advantages and disadvantages depending on such factors

    as were listed earlier like: (1) initial cost; (2) size and shape of fields; (3) soil characteristics;
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    (4) nature and availability of the water supply; (5) climate; (6) cropping patterns; (7) social

    preferences and structures; (8) historical experiences; and (9) influences external to the

    surface irrigation system.

    2.2.1 Basin irrigation

    Basin irrigation is the most common form of surface irrigation, particularly in regions with

    layouts of small fields. If a field is level in all directions, is encompassed by a dyke to prevent

    runoff, and provides an undirected flow of water onto the field, it is herein called a basin. A

    basin is typically square in shape but exists in all sorts of irregular and rectangularconfigurations. It may be furrowed or corrugated, have raised beds for the benefit of certain

    crops, but as long as the inflow is undirected and uncontrolled into these field modifications, it

    remains a basin. Two typical examples are shown in Figure 3, which illustrate the most

    common basin irrigation concept: water is added to the basin through a gap in the perimeter

    dyke or adjacent ditch.

    Figure 3. Typical irrigated basins (from Walker and Skogerboe, 1987)

    a. large basin in the USA

    b. paddy basin in Asia

    There are few crops and soils not amenable to basin irrigation, but it is generally favoured by

    moderate to slow intake soils, deep-rooted and closely spaced crops. Crops which are

    sensitive to flooding and soils which form a hard crust following an irrigation can be basin

    irrigated by adding furrowing or using raised bed planting. Reclamation of salt-affected soils is

    easily accomplished with basin irrigation and provision for drainage of surface runoff is

    unnecessary. Of course it is always possible to encounter a heavy rainfall or mistake the cut-

    off time thereby having too much water in the basin. Consequently, some means of

    emergency surface drainage is good design practice. Basins can be served with less

    command area and field watercourses than can border and furrow systems because their

    level nature allows water applications from anywhere along the basin perimeter. Automation is

    easily applied.

    Basin irrigation has a number of limitations, two of which, already mentioned, are associated

    with soil crusting and crops that cannot accommodate inundation. Precision land levelling is

    very important to achieving high uniformities and efficiencies. Many basins are so small that

    precision equipment cannot work effectively. The perimeter dykes need to be well maintained

    to eliminate breaching and waste, and must be higher for basins than other surface irrigation

    methods. To reach maximum levels of efficiency, the flow per unit width must be as high as

    possible without causing erosion of the soil. When an irrigation project has been designed for

    either small basins or furrows and borders, the capacity of control and outlet structures may

    not be large enough to improve basins.

    2.2.2 Border irrigation

    Border irrigation can be viewed as an extension of basin irrigation to sloping, long rectangular

    or contoured field shapes, with free draining conditions at the lower end. Figure 4 illustrates a

    typical border configuration in which a field is divided into sloping borders. Water is applied to

    individual borders from small hand-dug checks from the field head ditch. When the water is

    shut off, it recedes from the upper end to the lower end. Sloping borders are suitable for nearly

    any crop except those that require prolonged ponding. Soils can be efficiently irrigated which

    have moderately low to moderately high intake rates but, as with basins, should not form

    dense crusts unless provisions are made to furrow or construct raised borders for the crops.

    The stream size per unit width must be large, particularly following a major tillage operation,
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    although not so large for basins owing to the effects of slope. The precision of the field

    topography is also critical, but the extended lengths permit better levelling through the use of

    farm machinery.

    Figure 4. Typical border irrigated field

    2.2.3 Furrow irrigation

    Furrow irrigation avoids flooding the entire field surface by channelling the flow along the

    primary direction of the field using 'furrows,' 'creases,' or 'corrugations'. Water infiltratesthrough the wetted perimeter and spreads vertically and horizontally to refill the soil reservoir.

    Furrows are often employed in basins and borders to reduce the effects of topographical

    variation and crusting. The distinctive feature of furrow irrigation is that the flow into each

    furrow is independently set and controlled as opposed to furrowed borders and basins where

    the flow is set and controlled on a border by border or basin by basin basis.

    Furrows provide better on-farm water management flexibility under many surface irrigation

    conditions. The discharge per unit width of the field is substantially reduced and topographical

    variations can be more severe. A smaller wetted area reduces evaporation losses. Furrows

    provide the irrigator more opportunity to manage irrigations toward higher efficiencies as field

    conditions change for each irrigation throughout a season. This is not to say, however, that

    furrow irrigation enjoys higher application efficiencies than borders and basins.

    There are several disadvantages with furrow irrigation. These may include: (1) an

    accumulation of salinity between furrows; (2) an increased level of tailwater losses; (3) the

    difficulty of moving farm equipment across the furrows; (4) the added expense and time to

    make extra tillage practice (furrow construction); (5) an increase in the erosive potential of the

    flow; (6) a higher commitment of labour to operate efficiently; and (7) generally furrow systems

    are more difficult to automate, particularly with regard to regulating an equal discharge in each

    furrow. Figure 5 shows two typical furrow irrigated conditions.

    Figure 5. Furrow irrigation configurations (after USDA-SCS, 1967)

    (a) graded furrow irrigation system

    (b) contour furrows
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    2.2.4 Uncontrolled flooding

    There are many cases where croplands are irrigated without regard to efficiency or uniformity.

    These are generally situations where the value of the crop is very small or the field is used for

    grazing or recreation purposes. Small land holdings are generally not subject to the array of

    surface irrigation practices of the large commercial farming systems. Also in this category are

    the surface irrigation systems like check-basins which irrigate individual trees in an orchard,

    for example. While these systems represent significant percentages in some areas, they will

    not be discussed in detail in this paper. The evaluation methods can be applied if desired, but

    the design techniques are not generally applicable nor need they be since the irrigationpractices tend to be minimally managed.

    2.3 Requirements for optimal performance

    2.3.1 Inlet discharge control

    2.3.2 Wastewater recovery and reuse

    There is substantial field evidence that surface irrigation systems can apply water to croplands

    uniformly and efficiently, but it is the general observation that most such systems operate well

    below their potential. A very large number of causes of poor surface irrigation performancehave been outlined in the technical literature. They range from inadequate design and

    management at the farm level to inadequate operation of the upstream water supply facilities.

    However, in looking for a root cause, one most often retreats to the fact that infiltration

    changes a great deal from irrigation to irrigation, from soil to soil, and is neither predictable nor

    effectively manageable. The infiltration rates are an unknown variable in irrigation practice.

    In those cases where high levels of uniformity and efficiency are being achieved, irrigators

    utilize one or more of the following practices: (1) precise and careful field preparation; (2)

    irrigation scheduling; (3) regulation of inflow discharges; and (4) tailwater runoff restrictions,

    reduction, or reuse. Land preparation is largely a land grading problem which will be discussed

    in Section 5. Irrigation scheduling is a theme covered separately by several publications such

    as the FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper 24 (Rev) by Doorenbos and Pruitt (FAO, 1977). Theattention here then is focused on inflow regulation and tailwater control.

    2.3.1 Inlet discharge control

    Surface irrigation systems have two principal sources of inefficiency, deep percolation and

    surface runoff or tailwater The remedies are competitive. To minimize deep percolation the

    advance phase should be completed as quickly as possible so that the intake opportunity time

    over the field will be uniform and then cut the inflow off when enough water has been added to

    refill the root zone. This can be accomplished with a high, but non-erosive, discharge onto the

    field. However, this practice increases the tailwater problem because the flow at the

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    downstream end must be maintained until a sufficient depth has infiltrated. The higher inflow

    reaches the end of the field sooner but it increases both the duration and the magnitude of the


    There are three options available to solve this problem, at least partially: (1) dyke the

    downstream end to prevent runoff as in basin irrigation; (2) reduce the inflow discharge to a

    rate more closely approximating the cumulative infiltration along the field following the advance

    phase, a practice termed 'cutback'; or (3) select a discharge which minimizes the sum of deep

    percolation and tailwater losses, i.e., optimize the field inflow regime. Examples of these

    alternative practices are discussed and illustrated in Section 5. In this configuration, the headditch is divided into a series of level bays which are differentiated by a small change in

    elevation. Water levels are regulated in two bays simultaneously so that the lower bay has

    sufficient head to produce an advance phase flow in the furrows while in the upper bay the

    head is only sufficient to produce the cutback flow. Thus, the system operates by moving the

    check-dam from bay to bay along the upper end of the field.

    Two very recent additions to the efforts to control surface irrigation systems more effectively

    are the 'Surge Flow' system (Figure 6) developed at Utah State University, USA and the

    'Cablegation' system developed at the US Department of Agriculture's Snake River Water

    Conservation Research Center in Kimberly, Idaho, USA. These systems will be dealt with in

    more detail in a later section.

    Figure 6. One of the innovations in surface irrigation, the Surge Flow system

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    2.3.2 Wastewater recovery and reuse

    The tailwater deep percolation trade-off can also be solved by collecting and recycling the

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    runoff to improve surface irrigation performance. Reuse systems have not been widely

    employed historically because water and energy have been inexpensive. Even today it is often

    more economical to regulate the inflow rather than to collect and pump the runoff back to the

    head of the field or to another field, tailwater reuse systems are more cost-effective when the

    water can be added to the flow serving lower fields and thereby saving the cost of pumping.

    2.4 Surface irrigation structures

    2.4.1 Diversion structures2.4.2 Conveyance, distribution and management structures

    2.4.3 Field distribution systems

    Surface irrigation systems are supported by a number of on- and off-farm structures which

    control and manage the flow and its energy. In order to facilitate efficient surface irrigation,

    these structures should be easily and cheaply constructed as well as easy to manage and

    maintain. Each should be standardized for mass production and fabrication in the field by

    farmers and technicians.

    It is not the intent of this guide to be comprehensive with regard to the selection and design of

    these structures since other sources are available, but it is worthwhile to note some of thesestructures by way of presenting a larger view of surface irrigation.

    The structural elements of a surface system perform several important functions which

    include: (1) turning the flow to a field on and off; (2) conveying and distributing the flow among

    fields; (3) water measurement, sediment and debris removal, water level stabilization; and (4)

    distribution of water onto the field.

    2.4.1 Diversion structures

    Most surface irrigation systems derive their water supplies from canal systems operated by

    public or semi-public irrigation departments, districts, or companies. Some irrigation water issupplied in piped delivery systems and some directly pumped from groundwater. Diversion

    structures perform several tasks including (1) on-off water control which allows the supply

    agency to allocate its supply and protects the fields below the diversion from untimely flooding;

    (2) regulation and stabilization of the discharge to the requirements of field channels and

    watercourse distribution systems; (3) measurement of flow at the turnout in order to establish

    and protect water entitlements; and (4) protection of downstream structures by controlling

    sediments and debris as well as dissipating excess kinetic energy in the flow. A typical turnout

    structure is shown in Figure 7.

    Figure 7. Typical turnout from a canal or lateral (from walker end

    Skogerboe, 1987)

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    2.4.2 Conveyance, distribution and management structures

    Conveying water to the field requires similar structures to those found in major canal networks.

    The conveyance itself can be an earthen ditch or lateral, a buried pipe, or a lined ditch. Lined

    sections can be elevated as shown in Figure 8, or constructed at surface level. Pipe materials

    are usually plastic, steel, concrete, clay, or asbestos cement, or they may be as simple as a

    wooden or bamboo construction. Lining materials include slip-form cast-in-place, or

    prefabricated concrete (Figure 9), shotcrete or gunite, asphalt, surface and buried plastic or

    rubber membranes, and compacted earth.

    Figure 8. Elevated concrete channel in Iran

    Figure 9. Slip-form concrete lining in the USA

    The management of water in the field channels involves flow measurement, sediment and

    debris removal, divisions, checks, drop-energy dissipators, and water level regulators. Some of

    the more common flow control structures for open channels are shown in Figure 10.

    Associated with these are various flow measuring devices like weirs, flumes, and orifices. The

    designs of these structures have been standardized since they are small in size and capacity.

    Designs for flow measurement and drop-energy dissipator structures need more attention and

    construction must be more precise since their hydraulic responses are quite sensitive to their


    Figure 10. On-farm water management structures (from Skogerboe et al.,


    a. a simple drop structure
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    b. a typical check-divider

    2.4.3 Field distribution systems

    After the water reaches the field ready to be irrigated, it is distributed onto the field by a variety

    of means, both simple and elaborately constructed. Most fields have a head ditch or pipeline

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    running along the upper side of the field from which the flow is distributed onto the field.

    In a field irrigated from a head ditch, the spreading of water over the field depends somewhat

    on the method of surface irrigation. For borders and basins, open or piped cutlets as illustrated

    in Figure 11 are generally used. Furrow systems use outlets which can be directed to each


    Figure 11. Head ditch outlets for borders and basins (after Kraatz and

    Mahajan, FAO, 1975)

    Figure 12 shows a system in which siphon tubes are used as a means of serving each furrow.

    Field distribution and spreading can also be through portable pipelines running along the

    surfaces or permanent pipelines running underground. Basins and borders usually receive

    water through buried pipes serving one or more gated risers within each basin or border. A

    typical riser outlet, known as an alfalfa valve, is shown in Figure 13. The most common piped

    method of furrow irrigation uses plastic or aluminium gated pipe like that shown in Figure 14.

    The gated pipe may be connected to the main water supply via a piped distribution network

    with a riser assembly like the one shown in Figure 13, directly to a canal turnout, or through an

    open channel to a piped transition.

    Figure 12. Siphons for furrow irrigation

    Figure 13. An alfalfa valve riser
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    Figure 14. Gated pipe for furrows
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    Produced by: Natural ResourcesManagement and Environment Department

    Title: Guidelines for designing and evaluatin surface irrigation systems...

    More details

    3. Field measurements

    3.1 Field topography and configuration

    3.2 Determining water requirements

    3.3 Infiltration

    3.4 Flow measurement

    3.5 Field evaluation

    The evaluation of surface irrigation at the field level is an important aspect of both

    management and design. Field measurements are necessary to characterize the irrigation

    system in terms of its most important parameters, to identify problems in its function, and to

    develop alternative means for improving the system.

    System characterization necessitates a series of basic field measurements before, during, and

    after the irrigation. The objectives of the evaluation will dictate whether the field measurements

    are comprehensive or are simplified for special purposes. In some cases, there are alternative

    methodologies and equipment for accomplishing the same ends. The selection provided

    herein is based on a limited selection found to be most useful during numerous field

    evaluations and, in some measure, the practicality in the international sense.

    Five classes of field measurements are presented: (1) field topography and configuration; (2)

    water requirements; (3) infiltration; (4) flow measurement; and (5) irrigation phases.

    3.1 Field topography and configuration

    All field evaluations should include a relatively simple assessment of the field topography and

    layout. These measurements are well enough known that only their brief mention is required.

    There is first of all the field's primary elevations. This information requires that a surveying

    instrument be used to measure elevations of the principal field boundaries (including dykes if

    present), the elevation of the water supply inlet (an invert and likely maximum water surface

    elevation), and the elevations of the surface and subsurface drainage system if possible.These measurements need not be comprehensive nor as formalized as one would expect for

    a land levelling project.

    The field topography and geometry should be measured. This requires placing a simple

    reference grid on the field, usually by staking, and then surveying the elevations of the field

    surface at the grid points to establish slope and slope variations. Usually one to three lines of

    stakes placed 20-30 metres apart or such that 5-10 points are measured along the expected

    flow line will be sufficient. For example, a border or basin would require at most three stake

    lines, a furrow system as little as one, depending on the uniformity of the topography. The

    survey should establish the distance of each grid point from the field inlet as well as the field')http://-/?-http://-/?-http://openwindow%28%27/documents/en/detail/20964')
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    dimensions (length of the field in the primary direction of water movement as well as field

    width). There are important items of information that should be available from the survey: (1)

    the field slope and its uniformity in the direction of flow and normal to it; (2) the slope and area

    of the field; and (3) a reference system in the field establishing distance and elevation


    It is also worthwhile at this stage of the evaluation to record the location and extent of major

    soil types (this may require sampling and some laboratory analyses). The cropping pattern

    should be determined and, if a crop is on the field at the time of the evaluation, any obvious

    differences in growth and vigour should be noted. Similarly, the cultivation practices should berecorded.

    3.2 Determining water requirements

    3.2.1 Evapotranspiration and drainage requirements

    3.2.2 Soil moisture principles

    3.2.3 Soil moisture measurements

    3.2.4 An example problem on soil moisture

    The irrigation system may not be designed to supply the total amount of moisture required forcrop growth. In some cases, precipitation or upward flow from a water table may contribute

    substantially towards fulfilling crop water requirements. It is also unrealistic to expect that

    irrigation can be practiced without losses due to deep percolation, or tailwater runoff. The

    fraction of the water that is used should be maximized, but this fraction cannot be 100 percent

    without other serious problems developing such as a salt build-up in the crop root zone.

    The dependency on irrigation in an area requires some analyses of the water balance. Water

    balance may have three perspectives. The first is the balance of agricultural demands within a

    watershed as depicted in Figure 15. The outcome of such an analysis establishes the safe

    yield of water from various sources and thereby indicates the area of a project, the priorities

    among projects, and the configuration of the large systemic components of the project. Anevaluation at the field level presumes that this information is available, and it should be

    generally understood in as much as the limits of on-farm irrigation may be dictated by the

    magnitude and distribution of the total water supply.

    Figure 15. The perspective of water balance at the river basin level (from

    Walker, 1978)

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    The second water balance perspective, illustrated in Figure 16, is the water balance within the

    farm or command area. An individual field is generally irrigated in concert with others in the

    command or farm through sharing the water delivered through a canal turnout or a well. Fields

    also typically share drainage channels. Water balance at the farm or command area level is

    established on a field's access to water, its priority, timing and duration. Again, a field

    evaluation presumes that these factors have been formulated and can be determined. Figure

    17 illustrates the perspective of water balance at the field level.

    Figure 16. A perspective of the on-farm water balance

    Figure 17. The perspective of water balance at the field level

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    The water balance within the confines of a field is a useful concept for characterizing,

    evaluating or monitoring any surface irrigation system. In using this aspect of water balance,

    an important consideration is the time frame in which the computations are made, i.e. whether

    the balance will use annual data, seasonal data, or data describing a single irrigation event. If

    a mean annual water balance is computed, then it becomes reasonable that the change in

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    root zone soil moisture storage could be assumed as zero. In some irrigated areas,

    precipitation events are so light that the net rainfall can be reasonably assumed to equal the

    measured precipitation. Under other circumstances, various other terms can be neglected. In

    fact, the time base and field conditions are often selected to eliminate as many of the

    parameters as possible in order to study the behaviour of single parameters.

    One of the more important is crop evapotranspiration. The upward movement of groundwater

    to the root zone can usually be ignored if the water table is at least a metre below the root

    zone. Then if the soil moisture is measured before and after a period when there is no

    precipitation or irrigation, the depletion from the root zone is a viable estimate of crop wateruse.

    There are two particularly important components in the field water balance which impact

    design and evaluation. The first is the irrigation requirement of the crop, or its

    evapotranspiration and leaching needs. This is a design parameter and will be briefly

    described here, but a detailed treatment is left to the FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper 24,

    Crop Water Requirements, by Doorenbos and Pruitt (FAO, 1977). The second important

    component deals with field evaluation and concerns the nature of moisture content changes in

    the soil profile.

    3.2.1 Evapotranspiration and drainage requirements

    Evapotranspiration, ET, is dependent upon climatic conditions, crop variety and stage of

    growth, soil moisture depletion, and various physical and chemical properties of the soil. A two

    step procedure is generally followed in estimating ET: (1) the seasonal distribution of

    reference crop "potential evapotranspiration", Etp, which can be computed with standard

    formulae; and (2) the Etpis adjusted for crop variety and stage of growth. Other factors like

    moisture stress can be ignored for the purposes of design computations.

    There are perhaps twenty commonly used methods for calculating evapotranspiration, ranging

    in complexity from the Blaney-Criddle Method using primarily mean monthly temperature to

    more complete equations such as the Penman Method requiring radiation, temperature, wind

    velocity, humidity and other factors comprising the net energy balance at the crop canopy.

    The actual crop water demand depends on its stage of development and variety. Generally it

    is estimated by multiplying Etpby a crop growth stage coefficient, kCO. Values of kCOhave

    been published by Jensen (1973), Kincaid and Heermann (1974) and Doorenbos and Pruitt

    (FAO, 1977) for a wide range of crops grown worldwide.

    Some irrigation water should be applied in excess of the storage capacity of the soil to leach

    salts from the rooting region, although this does not have to be achieved during each irrigation

    event. It can usually be applied on an annual basis. As a matter of practicality, the normally

    occurring deep percolation under most surface irrigation systems exceeds the leaching

    fraction necessary for salt balance, particularly for the first and second irrigations each seasonwhen deep percolation losses are typically greatest. In addition, precipitation helps leach salts

    throughout the year. Nevertheless some irrigated areas maintain a salt balance in the root

    zone with excess leaching during only years of plentiful water supplies, which may occur as

    infrequently as every three to eight years.

    3.2.2 Soil moisture principles

    Important soil characteristics in irrigated agriculture include: (1) the water-holding or storage

    capacity of the soil; (2) the permeability of the soil to the flow of water and air; (3) the physical

    features of the soil like the organic matter content, depth, texture and structure; and (4) the

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    soil's chemical properties such as the concentration of soluble salts, nutrients and trace


    The total available water, TAW, for plant use in the root zone is commonly defined as the

    range of soil moisture held at a negative apparent pressure of 0.1 to 0.33 bar (a soil moisture

    level called 'field capacity') and 15 bars (called the 'permanent wilting point'). The TAWwill

    vary from 25 cm/m for silty loams to as low as 6 cm/m for sandy soils. Some typical values ofTAW, field capacity, permanent wetting point and miscellaneous features have been given in

    various texts. A typical summary is shown in Figure 18.

    Figure 18. Relationships between soil types and total available soil

    moisture holding capacity, field capacity and wilting point (from Walker and

    Skogerboe, 1987)

    Other important soil parameters include its porosity, f, its volumetric moisture content, q; its

    saturation, S; its dry weight moisture fraction, W; its bulk density, gb; and its specific weight, gs. The relationships among these parameters are as follows.

    The porosity, f, of the soil is the ratio of the total volume of void or pore space, Vp,to the total

    soil volume V:

    f= Vp/V(1)

    The volumetric water content, q, is the ratio of water volume in the soil, VW, to the total

    volume, V:


    = Vb/V (2)

    The saturation, S, is the portion of the pore space filled with water:

    S= VW/Vp(3)

    These terms are further related as follows:

    q= S* f(4)

    When a sample of field soil is collected and oven-dried, the soil moisture is reported as a dry

    weight fraction, W:

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    To convert a dry weight soil moisture fraction into volumetric moisture content, the dry weight

    fraction is multiplied by the bulk density, gb; and divided by specific weight of water, gwwhich

    can be assumed to have a value of unity. Thus:

    q= gbW/gw(6)

    The gbis defined as the specific weight of the soil particles, gs, multiplied by the particle

    volume or one-minus the porosity:

    gb= gb* (1 - f) (7)

    The volumetric moisture contents at field capacity, qfc, and permanent wilting point, qwp, then

    are defined as follows:

    qfc= gbWfc/gw(8)

    qwp= gbWwp/gw(9)

    where Wfcand Wwpare the dry weight moisture fractions at each point.

    The total available water, TAW is the difference between field capacity and wilting point

    moisture contents multiplied by the depth of the root zone, RD(refer to Table 1):

    TAW= (qfc- qwp) RD(10)


    Crop Root Depth (metres)

    Alfalfa 1.5

    Almonds 1.8

    Apricots 1.8

    Artichokes 1.4

    Asparagus 1.5

    Bananas 0.9

    Beans 0.9

    Beets 0.8

    Broccoli 0.5

    Cabbage 0.5

    Cantaloupes 1.5

    Carrots 0.9

    Cauliflower 0.6

    Celery 0.4

    Cherries 2.0

    Citrus 1.4

    Corn (maize) 1.3

    Cotton 1.2

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    Cucumber 1.1

    Eggplant 0.9

    Figs 1.5

    Grains and flax 1.2

    Grapes 1.5

    Groundnuts. 0.7

    Ladino clover 0.6

    Lettuce 0.3Melons 1.3

    Milo (Sorghum) 1.2

    Mustard 1.1

    Olives 1.5

    Onions 0.3

    Palm Trees 0.9

    Peaches 1.6

    Pears 1.6

    Peas 0.8

    Peppers 0.9

    Pineapple 0.5

    Potatoes 0.9

    Prunes 1.5

    Pumpkins 1.8

    Radishes 0.5

    Safflower 1.5

    Soybeans 1.0

    Spinach 0.6

    Squash (summer) 0.9

    Strawberries 0.5

    Sudan grass 1.8

    Tomatoes 1.5

    Turnips 0.9

    Walnuts 2.0

    Watermelon 1.2

    Summarized from Marr (1967) and Doorenbos and Pruitt (FAO, 1977)

    The Soil Moisture Deficit, SMD, is a measure of soil moisture between field capacity andexisting moisture content, qi, multiplied by the root depth:

    SMD= (qfc- qi) * RD (11)

    A similar term expressing the moisture that is allotted for depletion between irrigations is the

    'Management Allowed Deficit', MAD. This is the value of SMDwhere irrigation should be

    scheduled and represents the depth of water the irrigation system should apply. Later this will

    be referred to as Zreqindicating the 'required depth' of infiltration.

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    3.2.3 Soil moisture measurements

    The soil moisture status requires periodic measurements in the field, from which one can

    project when the next irrigation should occur and what depth of water should be applied.

    Conversely, such data can indicate how much has been applied and its uniformity over the

    field. As noted in the previous subsections, bulk density, field capacity and the permanent

    wilting point are also needed.

    There are numerous techniques for evaluating soil moisture. Perhaps the most useful are

    gravimetric sampling, the neutron probe and the touch-and-feel method.

    i. Gravimetric sampling

    Gravimetric sampling involves collecting a soil sample from each 15-30 cm of the soil profile to

    a depth at least that of the root penetration. Typical samplers are shown in Figure 19. The soil

    sample of approximately 100-200 grammes is placed in an air tight container of known weight

    (tare) and then weighed. The sample is then placed in an oven heated to 105 C for 24 hours

    with the container cover removed. After drying, the soil and container are again weighed and

    the weight of water determined as the before and after readings. The dry weight fraction of

    each sample can be calculated using Eq. 5. Knowing the bulk density, one can determine

    moisture contents from Eq. 6 and the soil moisture depletion from Eq. 11.

    Figure 19. Small equipment used for collecting soil samples from the field

    a. sampling auger

    b. sampling tube

    ii. The neutron Probe

    The neutron probe and scaler for making soil moisture measurements are illustrated in Figure

    20. The neutron probe is inserted at various depths into an access tube and the count rate is

    read from the scaler. The manufacturers of neutron probe equipment furnish a calibration

    relating the count rate to volumetric soil moisture content. Field experience suggests thatthese calibrations are not always accurate under a broad range of conditions so it is advisable

    for the investigator to develop an individual calibration for each field or soil type. Most

    calibration curves are linear, best fit lines of gravimetric data and scaler readings but may in

    some cases be slightly curvilinear (van Baval et al., 1963).

    Figure 20. A neutron probe and scaler for soil moisture measurements (after

    Walker and Skogerboe, 1987)

    The volume of soil actually monitored in readings by the neutron probe depends on the

    moisture content of the soil, increasing as the soil moisture decreases. The accuracy of soil

    moisture determinations near the ground surface is affected by a loss of neutrons into the

    atmosphere thereby influencing measurements prior to an irrigation more than afterwards. Asa consequence, soil moisture measurements with a neutron probe are usually unreliable within

    10-30 cm of the ground surface.

    iii. Touch-and-feel

    As a means of developing a rough estimate of soil moisture, the Touch-and-feel method can

    be used. A handful of soil is squeezed into a ball. Then the appearance of the squeezed soil

    can be compared subjectively to the descriptions listed in Table 2 to arrive at the estimated

    depletion level. Merriam (1960) has developed a similar table which gives the moisture

    deficiency in depth of water per unit depth of soil. Over the years various investigators have
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    compared actual gravimetric sample results to the Touch-and-Feel estimates, finding a great

    deal of error depending on the experience of the sampler.




    Feel or Appearance of Soil

    Loamy sands to fine sandy


    Fine sandy loams to silt


    Silt loams to clay


    0 (field


    no free water on ball* but wet

    outline on hand same same

    0-25makes ball but breaks easily

    and does not feel slick

    makes tight ball, ribbons easily,

    slightly sticky and slick

    easily ribbons slick


    25-50balls with pressure but easily


    pliable ball, not sticky or slick,

    ribbons and feels damp

    pliable ball, ribbons

    easily slightly slick

    50-75 will not ball, feels dryballs under pressure but is

    powdery and easily breaksslightly balls still pliable

    75-100 dry, loose, flows through fingers powdery, dry, crumbleshard, baked, cracked,


    * A "Ball" is formed by squeezing a soil sample firmly in one's hand

    A "Ribbon" is formed by squeezing soil between one's thumb and forefinger.

    iv. Bulk density

    Measurements of bulk density are commonly made by carefully collecting a soil sample of

    known volume and then drying the sample in an oven to determine the dry weight fraction.

    Then the dry weight of the soil, Wbis divided by the known sample volume, V, to determine

    bulk density, gb:

    gb= WbV(12)

    Most methods developed for determining bulk density use a metal cylinder sampler that isdriven into the soil at a desired depth in the profile. Bulk density varies considerably with depth

    and over an irrigated field. Thus, it is generally necessary to repeat the measurements in

    different places to develop reliable estimates.

    v. Field capacity

    The most common method of determining field capacity in the laboratory uses a pressure

    plate to apply a suction of -1/3 atmosphere to a saturated soil sample. When water is no

    longer leaving the soil sample, the soil moisture in the sample is determined gravimetrically

    and equated to field capacity.

    A field technique for finding field capacity involves irrigating a test plot until the soil profile issaturated to a depth of about one metre. Then the plot is covered to prevent evaporation. The

    soil moisture is measured each 24 hours until the changes are very small, at which point the