Water Management

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The Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture critically evaluates the benefits, costs, and impacts of the past 50 years of water development, the water management challenges communities are facing today, and solutions people have developed. The results will enable better investment and management decisions in water and agriculture in the near future and over the next 50 years. The assessment is produced by a broad partnership of practitioners, researchers and policy makers.

Crop water requirement

Crop water requirements are important for planning dugout size and/or obtaining water permits for drawing water from a creek or river. When calculating the water requirements of crops, keep a few things in mind. Solar radiation is the major factor in estimating water requirements. The higher the solar radiation, the higher the evapo-transpiration from plant surfaces will be. In the winter water loss due to transpiration from leaves is less than that of summer light conditions. If artificial lights are used in winter, as is done in case of roses, then the winter water usage will be higher. This also means the amount of water will vary from spring through to fall. Floricultural crops generally are estimated to be around 400 L/m²/year Peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers are estimated to be around 700 to 800 L/m²/year. Younger plants require less water when compared to a fully grown, mature crops. Growers using sawdust as a growing medium may use up to 50% of the water for leaching purposes. The amount of leachate is adjusted according to sunlight.

When calculating water requirements of greenhouses, also keep in mind the water used for misting, fogging or washing the vegetables.

Irrigation methods

Irrigation is an artificial application of water to the soil. It is usually used to assist in growing crops in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall. Additionally, irrigation also has a few other uses in crop production, which include protecting plants against frost, suppressing weed growing in rice fields and helping in preventing soil consolidation. In contrast, agriculture that relies only on direct rainfall is referred to as rain-fed farming. Irrigation is often studied together with drainage, which is the natural or artificial removal of surface and sub-surface water from a given area.

  • Surface Irrigation
  • Drip Irrigation
  • Sprinkler Irrigation
  • Sub Irrigation
  • Manual Irrigation

Surface Irrigation

In surface irrigation systems water moves over and across the land by simple gravity flow in order to wet it and to infiltrate into the soil. Surface irrigation can be subdivided into furrow, borderstrip or basin irrigation. It is often called flood irrigation when the irrigation results in flooding or near flooding of the cultivated land. Historically, this has been the most common method of irrigating agricultural land. Where water levels from the irrigation source permit, the levels are controlled by dikes, usually plugged by soil. This is often seen in terraced rice fields (rice paddies), where the method is used to flood or control the level of water in each distinct field. In some cases, the water is pumped, or lifted by human or animal power to the level of the land.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation, also known as trickle irrigation, functions as its name suggests. Water is delivered at or near the root zone of plants, drop by drop. This method can be the most water-efficient method of irrigation, if managed properly, since evaporation and runoff are minimized. In modern agriculture, drip irrigation is often combined with plastic mulch, further reducing evaporation, and is also the means of delivery of fertilizer. The process is known as fertigation. Deep percolation, where water moves below the root zone, can occur if a drip system is operated for too long of a duration or if the delivery rate is too high. Drip irrigation methods range from very high-tech and computerized to low-tech and labor-intensive. Lower water pressures are usually needed than for most other types of systems, with the exception of low energy center pivot systems and surface irrigation systems, and the system can be designed for uniformity throughout a field or for precise water delivery to individual plants in a landscape containing a mix of plant species. Although it is difficult to regulate pressure on steep slopes, pressure compensating emitters are available, so the field does not have to be level. High-tech solutions involve precisely calibrated emitters located along lines of tubing that extend from a computerized set of valves. Both pressure regulation and filtration to remove particles are important. The tubes are usually black (or buried under soil or mulch) to prevent the growth of algae and to protect the polyethylene from degradation due to ultraviolet light. But drip irrigation can also be as low-tech as a porous clay vessel sunk into the soil and occasionally filled from a hose or bucket.

Subsurface drip irrigation

Subsurface drip irrigation has been used successfully on lawns, but it is more expensive than a more traditional sprinkler system. Surface drip systems are not cost-effective for lawns and golf courses. In the past one of the main disadvantages of the subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) systems, when used for turf, was the fact of having to install the plastic lines very close to each other in the ground, therefore disrupting the turfgrass area. Recent technology developments on drip installers like the drip installer at New Mexico State University Arrow Head Center, places the line underground and covers the slit leaving no soil exposed.

Advantages of drip irrigation

  1. Minimized fertilizer/nutrient loss due to localized application and reduced leaching.
  2. High water application efficiency.
  3. Leveling of the field not necessary.
  4. Ability to irrigate irregular shaped fields.
  5. Allows safe use of recycled water.
  6. Moisture within the root zone can be maintained at field capacity.
  7. Soil type plays less important role in frequency of irrigation.
  8. Minimized soil erosion.
  9. Highly uniform distribution of water i.e., controlled by output of each nozzle.
  10. Lower labour cost.
  11. Variation in supply can be regulated by regulating the valves and drippers.
  12. Fertigation can easily be included with minimal waste of fertilizers.
  13. Foliage remains dry thus reducing the risk of disease.
  14. Usually operated at lower pressure than other types of pressurised irrigation, reducing energy costs.

Disadvantages of drip irrigation

  1. Expense. Initial cost can be more than overhead systems.
  2. Waste. The sun can affect the tubes used for drip irrigation, shortening their usable life. Longevity is variable.
  3. Clogging. If the water is not properly filtered and the equipment not properly maintained, it can result in clogging.
  4. Drip irrigation might be unsatisfactory if herbicides or top dressed fertilizers need sprinkler irrigation for activation.
  5. Drip tape causes extra cleanup costs after harvest. You'll need to plan for drip tape winding, disposal, recycling or reuse.
  6. Waste of water, time & harvest, if not installed properly. These systems requires careful study of all the relevant factors like land topography, soil, water, crop and agro-climatic conditions, and suitability of drip irrigation system and its components.
  7. Germination Problems. In lighter soils subsurface drip may be unable to wet the soil surface for germination. Requires careful consideration of the installation depth.
  8. Salinity. Most drip systems are designed for high efficiency, meaning little or no leaching fraction. Without sufficient leaching, salts applied with the irrigation water may build up in the root zone, usually at the edge of the wetting pattern.

Sprinkler Irrigation

In sprinkler or overhead irrigation, water is piped to one or more central locations within the field and distributed by overhead high-pressure sprinklers or guns. A system utilizing sprinklers, sprays, or guns mounted overhead on permanently installed risers is often referred to as a solid-set irrigation system. Higher pressure sprinklers that rotate are called rotors and are driven by a ball drive, gear drive, or impact mechanism. Sprinklers may also be mounted on moving platforms connected to the water source by a hose. Automatically moving wheeled systems known as traveling sprinklers may irrigate areas such as small farms, sports fields, parks, pastures, and cemeteries unattended.

Sub Irrigation

Subirrigation also sometimes called seepage irrigation has been used for many years in field crops in areas with high water tables. It is a method of artificially raising the water table to allow the soil to be moistened from below the plants' root zone. Often those systems are located on permanent grasslands in lowlands or river valleys and combined with drainage infrastructure. A system of pumping stations, canals, weirs and gates allows it to increase or decrease the water level in a network of ditches and thereby control the water table. Sub-irrigation is also used in commercial greenhouse production, usually for potted plants. Water is delivered from below, absorbed upwards, and the excess collected for recycling. Typically, a solution of water and nutrients floods a container or flows through a trough for a short period of time, 10–20 minutes, and is then pumped back into a holding tank for reuse. Sub-irrigation in greenhouses requires fairly sophisticated, expensive equipment and management. Advantages are water and nutrient conservation, and labor-saving through lowered system maintenance and automation. It is similar in principle and action to subsurface drip irrigation.

Manual Irrigation

These systems have low requirements for infrastructure and technical equipment but need high labor inputs.

Micro irriagation

The term "micro-irrigation" describes a family of irrigation systems that apply water through small devices. These devices deliver water onto the soil surface very near the plant or below the soil surface directly into the plant root zone. Growers, producers and landscapers have adapted micro-irrigation systems to suit their needs for precision water application. Micro-irrigation systems are immensely popular not only in arid regions and urban settings but also in subhumid and humid zones where water supplies are limited or water is expensive. In irrigated agriculture, micro-irrigation is used extensively for row crops, mulched crops, orchards, gardens, greenhouses and nurseries. In urban landscapes, micro-irrigation is widely used with ornamental plantings.

Emitter

The actual application of water in a micro- irrigation system is through an emitter. The emitter is a metering device made from plastic that delivers a small but precise discharge. The quantity of water delivered from these emitters is usually expressed in gallons per hour (gph). These emitters dissipate water pressure through the use of long-paths, small orifices or diaphragms. Some emitters are pressure compensating meaning they discharge water at a constant rate over a range of pressures.

Water Conservation

For crop irrigation, optimal water efficiency means minimizing losses due to evaporation, runoff or subsurface drainage. An Evaporation pan can be used to determine how much water is required to irrigate the land. Flood irrigation, the oldest and most common type, is often very uneven in distribution, as parts of a field may receive excess water in order to deliver sufficient quantities to other parts. Overhead irrigation, using center-pivot or lateral-moving sprinklers, gives a much more equal and controlled distribution pattern. Drip irrigation is the most expensive and least-used type, but offers the best results in delivering water to plant roots with minimal losses. As changing irrigation systems can be a costly undertaking, conservation efforts often concentrate on maximizing the efficiency of the existing system. This may include chiseling compacted soils, creating furrow dikes to prevent runoff, and using soil moisture and rainfall sensors to optimize irrigation schedules.

Recharge pits, which capture rainwater and runoff and use it to recharge ground water supplies. This helps in the formation of ground water wells etc. and eventually reduces soil erosion caused due to running water.

  1. Any beneficial deduction in water loss, use, or wasting
  2. A reduction in water use accomplished by implementation of water conservation or water efficiency measures.
  3. Improved water management practices that reduce or enhance the beneficial use of water.A water conservation measure is an action,

behavioral change, device, technology, or improved design or process implemented to reduce water loss, waste, or use. Water efficiency is a tool of water conservation. That results in more efficient water use and thus reduces water demand. The value and cost-effectiveness of a water efficiency measure must be evaluated in relation to its effects on the use and cost of other natural resources (e.g. energy or chemicals).

Rain water harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is the gathering, or accumulating and storing, of rainwater. Rainwater harvesting has been used to provide drinking water, water for livestock, water for irrigation or to refill aquifers in a process called groundwater recharge. Rainwater collected from the roofs of houses, tents and local institutions, or from specially prepared areas of ground, can make an important contribution to drinking water. In some cases, rainwater may be the only available, or economical, water source. Rainwater systems are simple to construct from inexpensive local materials, and are potentially successful in most habitable locations. Roof rainwater is usually of good quality and does not require treatment before consumption. Household rainfall catchment systems are appropriate in areas with an average rainfall greater than 200mm per year, and no other accessible water sources There are a number of types of systems to harvest rainwater ranging from very simple to the complex industrial systems. Generally, rainwater is either harvested from the ground or from a roof. The rate at which water can be collected from either system is dependent on the plan area of the system, its efficiency, and the intensity of rainfall.

Water quality

Water quality is the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of water. It is most frequently used by reference to a set of standards against which compliance can be assessed. The most common standards used to assess water quality relate to drinking water, safety of human contact and for the health of ecosystems. Contaminants that may be in untreated water include microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria; inorganic contaminants such as salts and metals; pesticides and herbicides; organic chemical contaminants from industrial processes and petroleum use; and radioactive contaminants. Water quality depends on the local geology and ecosystem, as well as human uses such as sewage dispersion, industrial pollution, use of water bodies as a heat sink, and overuse.