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Alternative (more efficient) Irrigation Systems. David A. Bainbridge Associate Professor, Marshall Goldsmith School of Management, Alliant International University, Scripps Ranch, San Diego, California. Water shortage!.

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Alternative (more efficient) Irrigation Systems

David A. Bainbridge

Associate Professor, Marshall Goldsmith School of Management, Alliant International University, Scripps Ranch, San Diego, California


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Water shortage!

  • The problem of water shortage continues to grow - both locally and globally

  • At the same time the need for restoration of dry lands and more food production from deserts and dry lands are both increasing

  • This led to my twenty year adventure with alternative irrigation systems



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Desertificationnow affects 1 billion people

Northern Mexico


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The First Step

  • This is not a “new” problem so I started with an extensive literature search

  • I also interviewed scientists and farmers who visited the Dry Lands Research Institute (at UC Riverside)

  • Several interesting systems have emerged and proved useful!


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Buried Clay Pot Irrigation

  • One of the most studied, and very effective systems uses a buried clay pot full of water to irrigate plants

  • The capillary flow of water through the clay walls of the pot is regulated by demand - so little water is wasted

  • Highly recommended! For restoration, gardens, landscaping, farming


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Simple and Effective

  • Clay pots worked well even in the lowest, hottest desert in California

  • Excellent for seedlings or for starting seeds or cuttings

  • Pot rim painted white to reduce evaporation


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Getting Started

  • Regular red clay pots work well

  • Seal the bottom hole with a cork or sealant

  • Use a lid with a small hole drilled in it to capture rainwater


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Place the pot

  • Set the pot in the soil so the rim is above ground

  • You don’t want the dirt and leaves to wash in

  • Firm the soil around the pot -- and plant


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A Long Tradition

  • A Chinese agricultural text describes the use of buried clay pot irrigation in China more than 2,000 years ago

  • Excerpts from this book provided my inspiration -- writing does speak across time

  • I later found work and use of clay pots in Iran, Pakistan, Mexico and other countries


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Fewer Weeds

  • Another great advantage of buried clay pots (and other deep watering systems) is reduced weed growth

  • In one study weeds were cut 87%

  • Less work - and less wasted water!


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Buried clay pots

  • Buried clay pots have also proved to be very effective when saline water must be used - or when salt is a

    problem in the soil

  • The steady moisture reduces salt buildup in the root zone and damage


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Starting Cuttings

  • Double clay pots are ideal for starting cuttings

  • The inner pot is sealed and filled with water

  • The moisture is maintained in the soil at an ideal level

  • BCP are good for starting cuttings in the field as well


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Deep Pipe Irrigation

  • This method of irrigation was suggested by a traditional system from India - where water was placed in the hollow stem of a dead plant to water deeper in the soil

  • Subsequent research found one study and one report from India

  • This has been our best system for restoration work -- cheap, durable and very effective


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Deep pipe installation

  • The pipe may be about 14-16” long, 2” diameter, set vertically

  • Small holes are drilled on the plant side below soil level

  • A screen lid is glued on to protect wildlife


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Deep pipe drip

  • Where a drip system can be set up it can also be used in a deep pipe

  • Smaller pipes can be used with the emitter inserted in the pipe


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No waste

  • Little water evaporates because the water is placed in the deep soil

  • Little time is wasted because it is fast and easy to fill the pipe

  • It works very well on slopes

  • It develops large root systems


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Excellent Results

  • Survival can be good with very little water

  • Mesquite trees were started with a total of only 5 gallons of water in the first year

  • Not five gallons a week or two gallons an hour


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Wick Irrigation

  • Wick systems were also described in reports from India

  • Wicks were traditionally combined with clay pots to water orchard trees

  • After trying several types of wick systems I think this may be the next great thing!


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Wick options

  • Wicks can be used in a capillary form, where water is wicked from a reservoir to the plant through a raised section by capillary forces (as little as 20 ml day)

  • Or in a gravity feed form, with the reservoir above the wick (a hose clamp can be used to adjust the flow rate)


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Wick options

  • Wick with clay pot

  • With a riser tube in bottom hole

  • Capillary wick from buried bottle in plastic tube


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More wick options

  • Half inch diameter gravity wick with large reservoir

  • Installed with treeshelter and wire cages for jack rabbit protection

  • Seedlings topped treeshelter at 3 weeks!


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Wick Material

  • The best material has been old, used woven nylon rope (1/4”-1/2”)

  • Fresh woven nylon rope can be used if it is washed with detergent to remove oils - but it is not as good as old rope

  • Cotton is used in India, but tended to mold in my early tests


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Porous Hose

  • This system uses a vertically placed leaky or porous hose section

  • It performs a bit like a clay pot--only it is cheaper and smaller

  • These hoses are made of recycled rubber and hold up well


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Porous hose

  • This can be fed by a bottle

  • Or attached to a drip type line

  • Both have worked reasonably well

  • A fast rate hose is needed to work at low pressure


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Tree shelter

  • Watering into a tree shelter is also effective if the base is sealed into the soil

  • This can be done by hand from a hose, water jugs or using a drip type system


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Perforated Pipe

  • Sub-irrigation can also be done with slotted drain pipe

  • The pipe is laid deep in the soil and filled with water using a water truck

  • Best for lines of plants - good for landscaping


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Porous Capsules

  • A modern adaptation of buried clay pot irrigation was developed in Brazil

  • The clay is formed into a capsule that can be placed on a water line

  • These worked well -- but were more costly to make


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Types

  • Porous capsule made by gluing two red clay pots together (I would use Gorilla glue now)

  • Porous capsules made by a staffer using a beer bottle for a mold


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Porous capsules

  • These are easy to plumb in a system

  • Or they can be gravity fed from a bottle or tank

  • These are very efficient

  • A range of smaller porous irrigation systems are sold for container plants


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Microcatchments

  • A microcatchment is a specially contoured area with slopes and berms designed to increase runoff and concentrate it

  • Rain falling on the catchment area drains into a planting basin where it infiltrates and is effectively "stored" in the soil profile

  • Used for millennia - very effective if it rains! But can be easily filled from a water truck if it doesn’t


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A Microcatchment

  • Microcatchments can be shaped to look more natural, but do entail disturbing the soil surface

  • More appropriate in agriculture - but has worked well on restoration projects


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Problems with drip

  • Drip irrigation has been very effective in agriculture, but we can do better

  • Water must be filtered and pressurized and maintenance is critical

  • These alternatives may be 2-4 times more water efficient than surface drip


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Drip problems

  • Drip is not well suited for remote sites - due to animal damage

  • Even when open water is nearby animals will chew on drip tubing

  • Insect and salt clogging and other problems also occur regularly


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The best system?

  • It depends

  • All have been good for some situations

  • Deep pipes have been used most often

  • Perforated pipe is now used in some situations (linear plantings Mojave)

  • My current research is on wicks


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Container type

  • The container type, planting system and site make a difference in irrigation choice

  • Tall pot, half high, deep pot, plant band, cutting or supercell?

  • Watering interval and depth to groundwater

  • Goals for survival and growth


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How efficient?

  • My goal has been to irrigate plants with minimal water use -- perhaps a quart a month for species like mesquite

  • This has been possible if they get a tree shelter to reduce temperatures and exposure to the wind

  • They don’t grow much - but they will survive until it rains


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Restoration in remote places

  • My goal has been to reduce water use during establishment to a low enough level that it could be done by hand carrying water some distance

  • Or using a mule, many miles from the water source



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More information

  • A Guide for Desert and Dryland Restoration

  • More detail in papers and web sites

    www.sakia.org

    www.desertrestore.org

    www.ecocomposite.org



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You Can Help

  • Try these systems -- figure out how to make them better, cheaper and more efficient

  • Find out what works and what doesn’t for you -- and let me know dbainbridge@alliant.edu

  • Send money to support research (not a 501C3 so not tax deductible)

  • Buy a couple of books and send one to Africa, Mexico, Asia and your local library


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Thanks

  • To friends, students (AIU, SDSU, UCR, WCIU), staff, funders, vendors and family who have helped over the last 25 years

  • To the traditional farmers who figured most of this out -- and have shared information and ideas freely

  • Special thanks to Steve Mitchell, Wes Jarrell, Ross Virginia, Mike Allen and John Rieger who made this possible


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