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Pilot Program Automates Crop Irrigation System in Central Valley

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A new pilot program system designed to target an increase in water savings and crop output has captured the interest of several agencies and regional water districts.

Photo by milkhousestudios.com
With the new system, irrigation water will be distributed to 76 customers across 3,800 acres of California's Central Valley through 19 mi of pressurized pipeline through an automated, calculated channel.
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The system serves a portion of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District (SSJID) in California’s Central Valley near Ripon. Local growers using the system utilize a combination of mobile technology and “airline-ticketing-style” online tools to schedule individualized water deliveries, according to Danny Craig, a spokesman for Stantec, the project’s consulting engineer and construction manager. Stantec provided mechanical, civil, structural, electrical, the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) services.

The recently completed Division 9 pressurized irrigation network was designed and constructed over a three-year period. Design of the new system was developed and implemented as a cooperative effort between Stantec Consulting and the SSJID.

Craig says previously the district region solely operated using a gravity-based system that relied on a network of irrigation laterals to deliver water. With the new system, irrigation water will be distributed to 76 customers across 3,800 acres of California’s Central Valley through 19 mi of pressurized pipeline through an automated, calculated channel. Using an online system similar to an airline ticketing platform, growers in the district’s Division 9 are enabled to log-in and schedule water deliveries, Craig says. Additional information on current and past weather forecasts, previous water usage and historical evapotranspiration rates are also available on the website. Each farmer then selects from available delivery dates and later receives alerts via email and text message before and after delivery to confirm volume and flow rate data.

Also supporting the system, Craig says moisture sensors placed in the ground on each grower’s property will help indicate optimal ordering times when almond and walnut trees are at their greatest need. After providing each parcel with water through 76 solar-powered customer connections – including valves and meters – the new system will also utilize a seven-acre basin for water storage and use.

Craig says that while under development, the project was recognized by the Department of Agriculture – including a site visit in 2011 from Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan – with a $1 million grant toward design and construction, noting the innovation in water efficiency. The project also earned a $1 million grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service designated to the growers within the project area to assist in the connection to the pressurized line. Noting the pilot phase of the effort, Craig says the SSJID is evaluating the potential for replicating the system in other district divisions while allowing the effort to serve as an industry model for other agencies.

“It’s genuinely exciting to design a system that embraces technology to meet the individual needs of farmers and provides a way of conserving water that’s new to the agriculture industry,” says Jeff Shaw, Stantec project engineer.

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