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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

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
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
the first step
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!
buried clay pot irrigation
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
simple and effective
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
getting started
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
place the pot
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
a long tradition
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
fewer weeds
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!
buried clay pots
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
starting cuttings
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
deep pipe irrigation
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
deep pipe installation
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
deep pipe drip
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
no waste
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
excellent results
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
wick irrigation
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!
wick options
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)
wick options21
Wick options
  • Wick with clay pot
  • With a riser tube in bottom hole
  • Capillary wick from buried bottle in plastic tube
more wick options
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!
wick material
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
porous hose
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
porous hose25
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
tree shelter
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
perforated pipe
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
porous capsules
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
  • 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
porous capsules30
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
  • 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
a microcatchment
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
problems with drip
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
drip problems
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
the best system
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
container type
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
how efficient
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
restoration in remote places
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
more information
More information
  • A Guide for Desert and Dryland Restoration
  • More detail in papers and web sites

you can help
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
  • 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
  • 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