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Irrigation is defined as the artificial application of water on to cropland for the purpose
of satisfying the water requirements necessary for growing crops. Irrigation plays a key
role in stabilizing food production in a nu ',er of countries by either supplementing or
replacing the need fo_ natural precipitation for the purpose of food production.

Irrigation is a key to the ability of many farmers, and even nations, to feed themselves and
provide an adequate standard of living. Irrigation not only protects against drought but
brings with it numerous other benefits as well as occasional problems.

Irrigation has been credited with being a primary factor in the rise and fall of civilizations.
For example, in the region of Mesopotamia about 4,000 years ago, a thriving civilization
depended on a highly developed irrigation system. Water logging and salinization, as well
as the erosion and sedimentation resulting from irrigation, were instrumental in bringing
about the collapse of that empire. To this day, much of the land remains saline and has not
been recovered for crop production.

Currently, about one-fourth of the cultivated land in the world is irrigated. In the United
States, the 10% of cultivated land that is irrigated provides some 25% of the value of
agricultural production.

Irrigation can result in a number of benefits for the farmer and his or her community.
Irrigation stabilizes farm production by protecting against drought and by increasing crop
yields and quality when rainfall is insufficient. It permits farmers to grow moisture-
sensitive, high-value crops and crops that will improve their diet. In some areas with
proper climates, irrigation allows farmers to raise two or three good crops in ayear. It
allows them to plant on time, thus optimizing market conditions. In some areas, irrigation
systems are used for frost protection. There are numerous problems, however that can be
caused by poor design, construction, and management of irrigation systems. Salinization
and waterlogging are other results. Poor design and management of systems often result in
irrigation of only one-half or one-third of the potential area. Thus, costs per unit area may
be very high, and the benefits of irrigation may extend to only a portion of the farmers who
could use the water.
Irrigation is only one of many inputs to a farmer's sustainable agricultural system. Cultural
practices, farmer resources, farmer preferences, and other factors will affect the selection,
design, construction, and operation of an irrigation system. Therefore, it is very important
that those who work in irrigated agriculture understand clearly not only the benefits and
consequences of irrigation but also what it takes to maximize or optimize the benefits.

Session Topic: Soil-Plant-Water Relationships

Session Goal: Trainees will be able to grasp and understand basic concepts relating to
physical characteristics of soil, and describe the relationship to irrigation water

Session Objectives:
(1) Trainees will be able to categorize different soil textures
(2) Trainees will be able to describe the relationship between soil texture, structure,
and plant rooting to the size of the soil water reservoir available to the plant.

Session Activities:
Trainer presents brief lecture on soil texture, structure, and the relationship of these factors
to aeration, permeability, water holding capacity, and drainage. Trainer graphically
presents a brief overview of the basic concepts of the movement and storage of water in
soil, indicating how texture, structure, and plant rooting.




Proper irrigation requires knowledge of soil water storage and movement of water in the
soil, as well as availability of this water to the plant. Irrigation also requires knowledge of
plant root development, crop water use rates, and of the irrigation system itself. This
section covers basic definitions and relationships that must be understood by those who
work with irrigation management at the field level.

2.1 Soil Moisture Storage and Availability

Figure 2.1 indicates the availability of soil water. A soil is at saturation or near saturation
following a heavy irrigation or rainfall in which most or all of the spaces between soil
particles are filled by water. The force of gravity is greater than the force with which soil
particles hold water, so between saturation and field capacity (see below), water is free to
drain through the soil by the force of gravity.
 Field capacity (FC) is the amount of water that a soil can hold against drainage by
 Permanent wilting point (PWP) is the moisture content in a soil at which plants
permanently wilt and will not recover.
 Available water (AW) is the water content that the soil can hold between field capacity
and wilting point.
 Readily available water (RAW) is that portion of available water that the crop can use
without affecting its evapotranspiration and growth. This portion is often indicated as a
fraction of available water (p) and is dependent primarily on the type of crop and
evaporative demand. A p value of 0.5 is commonly used. Shallow rooted crops such as
most vegetables, however, require high moisture levels for acceptable yields, sop is
about 0.3.Deeper rooted crops will generally tolerate higher depletions, so p = 0.6 to
0.7.During critical stages of growth (for example, flowering in corn), less depletion
should be allowed than at other stages.
Soil moisture is typically measured as a percent of dry weight of soil, or as a volume
percentage. Expression as a volume percentage or depth of water per unit depth of soil is
most common and convenient in irrigation management.
The most useful measurement gives available water-holding capacity (AW) as a depth of
water per unit depth of soil expressed as mm of water per meter of soil depth (mm/m) or
inches of water per foot of soil depth (in/ft).

Figure 2.1 Soil Water and its Availability

The total available water (TAW) for a crop with root zone depth (D) is the product .of the
available water-holding' capacity (AW) per unit of soil depth and the root depth in the
same units, or:
TAW = D x AW The readily available water in the root zone (RAW) is: RAW = p x TAW
p = percent of allowable depletion not resulting in crop stress

2.1.1 Field Capacity

Although there are several lab methods for determining field capacity, it may be faster and
more practical to estimate as follows:
(1) Select a recently irrigated plot with no plants on it or make a small basin and fill with
(2) Cover the saturated soil with canvas or plastic to prevent evaporation; and
(3) Take samples after the soil has drained to field capacity.
The time required is usually one day in coarse-textured soils, two days in medium-textured
soils, and three to four days in fine-textured soils. Samples of the soil taken after the
indicated time period will be approximately at field capacity.Table2.5 can then be used to
understand the concept of field capacity for different soil textures by the"feel" method.
Typical relationships, such as that illustrated in Figure 2.34, which indicates field capacity
as a function of texture, are often sufficiently accurate for planning scheduling programs.
For more details on determination of soil moisture in quantifiable terms, see Ref. 44.

2.1.2 Permanent Wilting Point

Permanent wilting point can be established by determining the moisture at which plants
permanently wilt.
A simple criterion satisfactory for water management is that PWP is 50% of FC for course
to medium-textured soils and about 67%of FC for clays and clay loams. Typical
relationships, such as those illustrated in Figures 2.33 and 2.34 often provide sufficient
accuracy in estimating wilting point for water management purposes.

Figure 2.1 Typical relationships between soil moisture characteristics and texture

2.1.3 Available Water

Water Available water-holding capacities for soils are a function of soil texture, structure,
organic matter, and salt content. For general agricultural soils without salt, compaction, or
other types of problems, information such as that in Figure 2.34 or Table 2.4 on water-
holding capacities as a function of texture and soil water tension can be used for planning.
The factors that affect soil available water-holding capacity are:
1) Soil texture: as Table 2.4 shows, the smaller the soil particles, the greater the
surface area, and hence the greater the area on which water can cling. This results
in a higher available soil water holding capacity. In the case of heavy clay soils, the
soil water's availability to plant roots is limited by the soil denseness, since the
water is so tightly held.
2) Soil structure is the arrangement of soil particles into groups or aggregates. The
spaces between these aggregates provide places for soil drainage, soil aeration, and
root growth. This is especially important in heavy soils with small soil particles.
Four common soil structures are:

 Crumb or Granular: Roundish aggregates that are porous and easily

 Blocky: Block like soil aggregates that are relatively porous.
 Columnar: Column-like soil aggregates that are relatively porous.
 Platy: Plate like, flat soil aggregates that can overlap and impair soil
A soil with poor structure and drainage will tend to trap water in the profile, increasing
soil water-holding capacity, but also creating problems with waterlogging and
restricted root development.
3) Organic matter can increase a soil's water-holding capacity, mainly by improving
its physical condition.
4) A soil's salt content restricts a plant's ability to take up water from the soil

TABLE 2.4 Available Water-holding Capacities for General Soil Types

Coarse sands gravelly sands 40- 70 mm/m
Fine sands - loamy sands 70-100 mm/m
Sandy loams 120-160 mm/m
Loams 180-220 mm/m
Silt loams 230-270 mm/m
Silty clay loams, silty clays, heavy clays 160-200 mm/m

Figure 2.36 Typical Crop Water Extraction Patterns


* Estimating Net Crop Water Needs

* Estimating the Efficiency of Irrigation Systems

* Estimating Gross Daily Irrigation Requirements and Design Capacity

* Exam: Section 5 (Calculating Water Requirements)

3.1 Session Topic: Estimating Net Crop Water Needs
Session Goal: Trainees will be able to estimate net crop water requirements using local
crop data.

Session Objectives:

(1) Trainees will be able to define crop water use and the factors that determine the crop
water deficits that are compensater for through irrigation.

(2) Trainees will be able to estimate net irrigation requirements using local crop and
climate data.

Overview: Estimating net irrigation requirements is an essential prerequisite for the

design and management of farm irrigation systems. Trainees will now apply skills learned
in evaluating soil conditions to determine how much water must be made available to
support specific crops.

Session Activities:


60 Min.

Trainer will begin session by describing several crops and then ask Trainees to describe the
factors that determine how much water is needed to support these crops. Trainer should list
these factors on a flip chart and then begin a brief lecture that links the factors identified by
the Trainees tc, the concepts of evapotranspiration, reference crop evapotranspiration, crop
coefficients, dependable and effective rainfall, ground water contribution, and soil water
storage. Trainer should be able to describe each of these concepts graphically, assigning
mathematical symbols for each concept.

60 Min.

Trainer then uses one or two basic examples to demonstrate the use of equations and
simple techniques for quantifying evapotranspiration, effective rainfall, and net irrigation
requirements. Next, trainer pins up local crop, temperature, and rainfall data, and assigns
each Trainee two or three specific crops. Trainees are to use the local data to estimate the
net irrigation requirements for each crop. Trainees compare results at the conclusion of the
exercise, and trainer describes the role of estimating net crop water needs in planning an
irrigation system design.
3.2 Session Topic: Estimating the Efficiency of Irrigation Systems
Session Goal: Trainees will be able to understand how efficiently water is being conveyed
and applied to fields.

Session Objectives:

(1) Trainees will be able to define application and conveyance efficiencies and list the
factors that determine the efficiency of an irrigation system.

(2) Trainees will be able to realize the expected irrigation efficiency as a function of
irrigation method used.

(3) Trainees will be able to know conveyance efficiencies as a function of soil type and
canal conditions.

Overview: Irrigation efficiencies must be estimated correctly if crop water needs are to
be met by the irrigation system. Thus it is important that Trainees be able to estimate
efficiency with some accuracy. This session represents a good linkage with the session on
estimating crop water requirements to begin to show how to estimate irrigation water

Session Activities:

Time: 45 Min.

Trainer begins session with a profile drawing of an irrigation canal and irrigated field and
an inflow of water on one end. Be certain to include some plants and debris in the drawing
alongside the canal. Trainer asks Trainees to describe all of the ways water moves through
this profile, adding to the drawing the concepts of infiltration, soil water movement, and
evapotranspiration. Trainer describes the goal of irrigation as supplying limited water
supplies to the greatest possible area for crop cultivation. Trainees then list all of the
factors that must.. be taken into account to determine how efficiently water is being moved
through conveyance channels and onto fields.


Proper irrigation design and management requires that net and gross irrigation
requirements be accurately estimated. This information is necessary for determining the
timing and amounts of irrigation (irrigation schedules) and the design capacities of the
water storage and distribution systems.

Crop water use and requirements, rainfall, stored soil water and contributions of ground
water to the crop needs are generally expressed as equivalent depths of water over the crop
growing area (e.g., cm or EE).In determining delivery requirements, the crop irrigation
requirements are then usually expressed in terms of volume per unit time or flow rate (e.g.,

The net irrigation requirement for a crop maintained without water stress for any time
period can be determined through the following relationship:

Irn = ETc - Pe - Gw - Wb


Irn = is the net irrigation requirement for a given crop.

ETc = is the crop evapotranspiration or crop water use under no stress


Pe = is the effective precipitation.

Gw = is the ground water contribution.

Wb = is the available stored soil water at the beginning of the period.

Evapotranspiration is the process by which water is transferred from the plant and soil into
the atmosphere. It includes evaporation of water from the plant and soil surfaces, as well as
transpiration of water through the plant tissue.

Evapotranspiration rates or amounts are determined by climatic, plant, and soil conditions.
Solar radiation, temperatures, wind, and humidity are the primary climatic influences. Crop
ground cover, physiology, and metabolism are some or the plant factors. Soil moisture,
composition, and salinity also affect evapotranspiration rates.

Irrigation requirements are usually estimated with the assumption that the crop(s) will be
kept at or near optimum growth conditions. The crop evapotranspiration (ETc) can be
estimated by multiplying a reference crop evapotranspiration (ETo) by corresponding crop
coefficients (Kc).The relationship is usually expressed as:
ETc = Kc x ETo
In areas where rainfall provides any significant portion of the crop water supply, it is
essential that water availability from precipitation be evaluated in planning water delivery
requirements, adjusting irrigation schedules, and even in developing possible crops and
cropping patterns.

A probability analysis of rainfall based on historical precipitation is generally a part of this

evaluation for large projects. Average rainfall can usually be obtained by the Peace Corps
Volunteer from local weather stations, government agencies, or from a climatic atlas. The
use of average precipitation for the planning and design of a small project will result in the
design of a project that will ensure the farmer against crop failure, and crop yields will
generally be near to their potential..
Definitions of effective precipitation are found in the literature. One of the more popular
and useful definitions is that effective rainfall is that portion of the rainfall that contributes
to the evapotranspiration requirements of a crop. Thus, that portion of rainfall that is not
lost from the farm, either as surface runoff or as deep percolation to subsurface drainage,
may be considered effective.

Even small amounts of water retained on the plant surface may be considered effective, as
they help to satisfy evapotranspiration demand. It is common to discount small amounts of
up to 4 or 5mm, however, when ground cover is incomplete and evaporation from the soil
surface would be very rapid.

High intensity rains producing a large amount of runoff and soils that have little capacity to
store moisture may determine what little of the precipitation is effective. Rainfall that is
lost during the non-cropped season as evaporation is ineffective.

Since effective rainfall is difficult to determine, it may be necessary to evaluate soil

moisture after a rainfall event to evaluate the effectiveness of the rainfall in replenishing
the soil profile so that irrigation can be adjusted accordingly. Generally, low intensity
rainfall that does not exceed the soil water deficit is highly effective after significant
canopy has been established.

Since effective rainfall is determined by rainfall intensity, soil infiltration characteristics,

soil moisture deficit, surface storage, and evaporative conditions, it is difficult to estimate
precisely. For planning purposes, it is generally adequate to assume that on deep rooted
crops, flat ground, or sandy soils, the effective precipitation will usually be around80%, if
rainfall is generally not of great intensity and if moisture conservation practices are used.
On steep terrains, heavy soils, and in areas of high intensity rainfall, the effective rainfall
may be less than 50%
Not all water available at the head of a canal is available to fulfill the net irrigation
requirements (Irn).Losses to deep percolation, evaporation, and surface runoff, as well as
leaching requirements,- must be accounted for in the conveyance systems and in the farm
application system. The gross irrigation water requirement (Irg) can be determined if field
application and canal distribution system efficiencies are known or can be estimated.

The basic equation for determining gross irrigation requirements is

Irg =Irn / Ea x Ec

Irn = is the net irrigation requirement per day (depth).

Ea = is the farm application efficiency (fraction),.or the ratio between the water that
enters and stays in the root zone to meet crop needs and that which is delivered to
the field.

Ec = is the canal conveyance efficiency (fraction), or the ratio of the water

delivered to the field and that which enters the irrigation canal.

Primary factors affecting conveyance losses are management aspects that cause
fluctuations or require adjustments in the supply, as well as physical factors such as
seepage losses through canal banks and canal outlets. Typically, canal losses are very high
when a large number of canals serve many small farms, and where organizational control
of water is not strict and orderly. Highly permeable soils and poor maintenance of canals
are other primary causes.

Primary factors affecting or resulting in low application efficiencies are improper irrigation
system design, construction, and .maintenance, as well as inadequate farmer knowledge of
crop water requirements and irrigation scheduling criteria, irrigation system evaluation and
monitoring criteria, and delivery system behavior. Many times, the delivery of water to the
farm may be untimely, in improper amounts, and with excessive variation in the available
discharge. These factors, which are beyond the farmer's control, may make efficient
irrigation impossibility.