me31d drainage and irrigation engineering l.
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ME31D: DRAINAGE AND IRRIGATION ENGINEERING. INTRODUCTION. COURSE GOALS. This course has two specific goals: (i) To introduce students to basic concepts of soil, water, plants, their interactions, as well as irrigation and drainage systems design, planning and management.

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course goals
  • This course has two specific goals:
  • (i)To introduce students to basic concepts of soil, water, plants, their interactions, as well as irrigation and drainage systems design, planning and management.
  • (ii)To develop analytical skills relevant to the areas mentioned in (i) above, particularly the design of irrigation and drainage projects.
course outline
Course Outline
  • Basic Soil-Plant-Water Relations.
  • Irrigation Water Requirements,
  • Sources, quantity and quality of irrigation water:
  • Irrigation planning, scheduling and efficiencies.
  • Design of irrigation systems and structures.
  • Design of drainage systems and structures. Computer applications and simulation modeling.
course objectives
Course Objectives
  • On Completion of this course, students should be able to:
  • (i)Understand the basic soil-plant-water parameters related to irrigation
  • (ii) Understand how to estimate the quantity of water required by crops using manual and computer methods.
  • (iii) Be able to plan and design irrigation and drainage projects.
course objectives contd
  • (iv) Understand the computer applications in irrigation and drainage designs.
  • (v)Design channels and other irrigation structures required for irrigation, drainage, soil conservation, flood control and other water-management projects.
course assessment
 Course  Assessment
  • (i)One (1) mid-semester test, 1-hour duration counting for 10% of the total course.
  • (ii)One (1) Project Assignment counting for 10%.
  • One (1) end-of-semester examination, 2 hours duration counting for 80% of the total course marks.
reading materials
Reading Materials
  • (i)James, L.G. (1988). Principles of Farm Irrigation System Design. John Wiley, New York.
  • (ii)Chin, D.A.. (2000). Water Resources Engineering, Prentice Hall, New Jersey.
  • (iii) Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering, American Society of Civil Engineers.
  • (iv)Course comprehensive note book and other handouts and tutorial sheets.
me31d drainage and irrigation engineering8


1.1. Irrigation is the application of water to the soil to supplement natural precipitation and provide an environment that is optimum for crop production.

types of irrigation
objectives of irrigation
To Supply Water Partially or Totally for Crop Need

To Cool both the Soil and the Plant

To Leach Excess Salts

To improve Groundwater storage

To Facilitate continuous cropping

To Enhance Fertilizer Application- Fertigation

to understand irrigation one needs knowledge of
Basic Soil Science/Physics



Plant/Soil/Water Relations



General Engineering Principles

To Understand Irrigation, One Needs Knowledge of:
1 2 soil constituents
  • Mineral Material: Sand, clay and silt
  • Organic matter - very valuable
  • Water
  • Air
mineral components
  • Except in the case of organic soils, most of a soil’s solid framework consists of mineral particles.
  • They are variable in size and composition. They can vary from small rock particles to colloids.
mineral component contd
  • The mineral can be raw quartz and other primary materials – coarse fractions which have not changed from parent material)
  • They can also be silicate clays and iron oxides formed by the breakdown and weathering of less resistant minerals as soil formation progressed. These are called secondary minerals.
sand component
  • Visible to the Naked Eye and Vary in Size.
  • They are Gritty when rubbed between Fingers.
  • Sand Particles do not Adhere to one another and are therefore not Sticky.
silt and clay components

Silt Particles are smaller than sand. The silt particles are too small to be seen without a microscope. It feels smooth but not sticky, even when wet.

Clays are the smallest class of mineral particles. They adhere together to form a sticky mass when wet and form hard clods when dry.

soil texture
  • Relative proportions of the various soil separates (sand, silt and clay) in a soil.
  • Terms such as sandy loam, silty clay, and clay loam are used to identify soil texture.
  • Soil Components are separated using Mechanical Analysis, Sieving for Sand and Rate of Settling in Pipette for Silt and Clay.
soil texture contd
  • From the mechanical analysis, the proportions of sand, silt and clay are obtained.
  • The actual soil texture is determined using the Soil Textural Triangle e.g. for a Soil with 50% sand, 20% silt and 30% clay, the texture is Sandy Clay Loam.
  • Arranged in the increasing order of heaviness, there are 12 soil textures namely: sand, loamy sand, sandy loam, loam, silt loam, silt, sandy clay loam, silty clay loam, clay loam, sandy clay, silty clay and clay.
1 4 colloidal material
  • The smaller particles (< 0.001 mm) of clay and similar sized organic particles) have colloidal properties and can be seen with an electronic microscope.
  • The colloidal particles have a very large area per unit weight so there are enough surface charges to which water and ions can be attracted. These charges make them adhere together. Humus improves the water holding capacity of the soil.
1 5 water
  • Quantity of water in a soil as determined by its moisture content does not give a true indication of the soil ‘wetness’.
  • A clay soil, which on handling feels dry, can be at the same moisture content as a sandy soil, which feels wet.
  • A plant will have less difficulty extracting water from a sandy soil than from a clay soil at the same moisture content.  
soil water contd
  • There is need for a soil ‘wetness’ which reflects the ease or difficulty of extraction of water from the soil by the plant.
  • The Concept of Soil Water Potential is therefore used in Soil/Plant/Water Relations
1 5 1 mechanism of soil water movement
1.5.1. Mechanism of Soil Water Movement
  • The flow of water in any hydraulic system, including the soil-plant-water system, takes place from a state of higher to one of lower potential energy.
  • The steepness of the potential gradient from one point in the system reflects the ease with which water will flow down the potential gradient between the points.
1 5 2 components of soil water potential
1.5.2 Components of Soil Water Potential

As in any other hydraulic system, the total potential (or total hydraulic head) in the soil-water system is made up of a number of distinguishable components. Some of these are as follows:

  • i ) Gravitational Potential: Reflects gravitational forces on the soil water.
components of soil water potential contd
Components of Soil Water Potential Contd.
  • ii) Pressure Potential: This is positive when greater than atmospheric pressure, and negative when below atmospheric.
  • A negative pressure potential (or tension, or suction) is also known as the matric potential.

It is characteristic of soil water above a free water surface.

components of soil water potential contd28
Components of Soil Water Potential Contd.
  • iii) Osmotic Potential: reflects the effect of solutes in soil water, in the presence of a semi-permeable membrane
  • The total potential of soil water at a point is the sum of all the components of potential, which are acting. Note that the movement of water in the soil is slow, so kinetic energy is neglected.
1 5 3 soil water potential and soil water content
1.5.3Soil Water Potential and Soil Water Content:
  • If a water pressure less that atmospheric (usually referred to as suction) is applied to a saturated soil, some water will drain off until equilibrium is reached.
  • At this state of equilibrium, the total potential of the soil water relative to a free water surface at the same elevation will be negative. Its value is known as the soil suction or matric suction since it is equal to the negative pressure potential of the soil water.
soil water potential and soil water content contd
Soil Water Potential and Soil Water ContentContd.
  • As the pressure potential is reduced ( i.e. suction increased) more water is removed from the soil.
  • The relationship between suction and actual water content is referred to as soil water characteristic.
  • Soil Water Potential is normally measured by tensiometers (matric potential), hanging water column (sand box) and pressure chamber.
1 5 4 methods of measuring soil water content
1.5.4 Methods of Measuring Soil Water Content
  • i) By Feel: This is by far the easiest method. Assessment by feel is good for experienced people who have sort of calibrated their hands. The type of soil is important.
  • ii)Gravimetric Method:This is equal to:
gravimetric method contd
Gravimetric Method Contd.
  • Weigh wet soil in a container, put in oven at 105 oC for about 48 hours; weigh again and obtain the weight of water by subtraction. A good soil should have moisture contents between 5 and 60% and for peat or organic soils, it can be greater than 100%.
methods of measuring soil water content contd
Methods of Measuring Soil Water Content Contd.

(iii) Volumetric water content, Pv. This is equal to:

  • Recall that volume = mass/density i.e.
soil bulk density
Soil Bulk Density
  • Bulk Density, Db is defined as the mass of a unit volume of dry soil.
  • This includes both solids and pores.
  • i.e. bulk density = Ms/V ;
  • Ms is the mass of dry soil and V is the total volume of undisturbed soil.
  • The major method of measuring bulk density in the field is to collect a known volume of undisturbed soil (V) in a soil core, and drying it in the oven to remove all the water to obtain Ms.
methods of measuring soil water content contd36
Methods of Measuring Soil Water Content Contd.
  • (iv) Neutron Probe: It consists of a probe lowered down a hole in the soil.
  • A box (rate meter or rate scalar) is at the top.
  • Within the probe is a radioactive source e.g. beryllium (435 years life span).
  • Close to the source is a detector.
  • The source emits fast neutrons, some of which are slowed down when they collide with water molecules (due to hydrogen molecules).
  • A cloud of slow neutrons (thermal neutrons) build up near the probe and are registered by the rate meter or rate scalar which measures the number of slowed down neutrons.
neutron probe

Fig. 1.3: Diagram and Photograph of Neutron Probe in Use

The method is quick but very expensive.

It is also dangerous since it is radioactive and must be used with care.

1 5 5 methods of measuring soil water suction
1.5.5 Methods of Measuring Soil Water Suction
  • i) Electrical Resistance Unit: This consists of a porous body with two electrodes embedded into it.
  • The porous body when buried equilibrates with the soil water and the readings are obtained through the resistance meters attached to the electrodes.
  • Resistance units are measured and the instrument needs to be calibrated against matric suction or volumetric moisture content (Pv).
  • Various porous bodies needed are gypsum, nylon or fibreglass.
  • The instrument is relatively cheap but it takes a long time to equilibrate or react e.g. 48 hours. The method is insensitive in wet soils <0.5 bars. It measures from 0.5 to 15 bars and more.
electrical resistance unit

Figure 1.4 Portable meter and resistance blocks used to measure soil moisture.

(Courtesy Industrial Instrument, Inc.)

methods of measuring soil water suction contd
Methods of Measuring Soil Water Suction Contd.
  • ii) Tensiometer: Tensiometer operates on the principle that a partial vacuum is developed in a closed chamber when water moves out through the porous ceramic tip to the surrounding.
  • A vacuum gauge or a water or mercury manometer can measure the tension. The gauge is usually calibrated in centibars or millibars.
  • After the porous cup is put in the soil, the tensiometer is filled with water. Water moves out from the porous tip to the surrounding soil (as suction is more in the soil). A point is reached when the water in the tensiometer is at equilibrium with the soil water. The reading of the gauge is then taken and correlated to moisture content using a calibration curve.
1 5 6 soil water equilibrium points
1.5.6 Soil Water Equilibrium Points
  • In a soil, which is completely saturated, large pores are filled with what is called gravitational water because it can drain out under gravity.
  • It drains out so fast that it is not available to the crops. The time of draining out varies from one day in sandy soils to four days in clay soils.
soil water equilibrium points contd
Soil Water Equilibrium PointsContd.
  • Field Capacity (FC): This is the amount of water a well-drained soil contains after gravitational water movement has materially ceased.
  • It is taken as the water content after 48 hours the soil has been subjected to heavy rainfall or irrigation sufficient to cause saturation.
  • Field capacity can also be determined by finding the moisture content when suction is 1/3 bar for clay and 1/10 bar for sand.
  • There still remains the water held loosely between the soil particles by surface tension at field capacity. This is called capillary water and is the main source of water for plant growth. Plants continuously take this up until there is no more water available for crop growth and wilting occurs.
soil moisture equilibrium points contd
  • Permanent Wilting Point (PWP): This is the soil moisture content at which crops can no longer obtain enough water to satisfy evapotranspiration needs.
  • The plant will wilt and may die later if water is not available. Water tension of soil at PWP is generally taken as 15 bars.
  • For field estimation, a crop is planted and when it wilts, the moisture content is the PWP. This technique requires personal judgment and prone to mistakes.
soil moisture equilibrium points contd45
  • Available Water (AW): This is the water available to crops. It is the water content at field capacity minus that at permanent wilting point.
  • Readily Available Water (RAW): This is the level to which the available water in the soil can be used up without causing stress in the crop. For most crops, 50 to 60% available water is taken as readily available.
available water in the soil
Available Water in the Soil


  • Excess water

100% available

Field Capacity

Readily Available Water

Available Water

  • Little reserve available
  • and plants stressed

Wilting Point

0% Available

  • No water available

Oven dry

1 5 7 definition of soil wetness
  • Soil Wetness can be described as:
  • By Mass (Pm): This is the gravimetric system.

b) By Volume (Pv): This is the volumetric system. It is given as:

Pv = Pm x Dry bulk density ( Db).

c) By Equivalent Depth: This is expressed in depth eg. in mm. This is normally used in irrigation engineering.

d = Pm . Db . D

  • where: d is the equivalent depth of water applied (mm);
  • Pm is the moisture content by mass (fraction or decimal);
  • D is the root zone depth (mm). In this case, Db is the specific gravity of the soil, which is dimensionless. It has the same units as bulk density when expressed in gm/cm3. The unit of d is therefore determined by the unit of the root zone depth, D
table effective rooting depth mm of some crops
Table: Effective Rooting Depth (mm) of Some Crops

Source: Hudson’s Field Engineering

1 5 8 infiltration of water
  • Infiltration is the entry of water into the soil. It is a very important variable in irrigation design since it shows the rate at which water can move into the soil mass to replenish the root zone.
  • Infiltration rate of a soil is the maximum rate at which water will enter the soil mass through the surface.
  • Infiltration rates into soils depend on soil texture and structure, density, organic matter content, hydraulic conductivity (permeability) and porosity.
infiltration contd
  • As wetting time increases, the infiltration rate decreases and usually approaches a constant value, which in the case of heavy clays may be zero. A general equation for the Infiltration rate (I) is the Kostiakov (1932) equation:
  • I = (a Tn ) mm/hr.
  • Where: a and n are constants and T is the elapsed wetting time
methods of measuring infiltration
Methods of Measuring Infiltration

Irrigation is practiced mainly in three ways:

  • By flooding the whole surface of the soil surface;
  • By Flooding part of the surface and
  • By Sprinkling.

The method used influences the measured intake rate of water into the soil. When designing irrigation systems, the method used for measuring the soil infiltration rate should simulate, as far as possible, the mechanism of water intake during the application.

infiltration measurement for flooded irrigation
Infiltration Measurement For Flooded Irrigation
  • For Flooded irrigation (border strip and basin), a double infiltrometer is normally used.
  • This consists of two concentric cylinders, the inner about 0.4 m diameter, the outer 0.5 m.
  • Water is maintained at the same level in each cylinder, 25 mm above the soil surface, or more if the water level is likely to be higher during irrigation.
  • The water infiltrating from the outer ring prevents lateral seepage by the water from the center cylinder.
  • By measuring the rate at which the water is added to the center cylinder, the infiltration rate can be found.
infiltration measurement for furrow irrigation
Infiltration Measurement For Furrow Irrigation
  • For flood irrigation (furrow), in addition to the usual factors affecting infiltration, the intake of water depends on the spacing and shape of the furrow.
  • The difference between inflows and outflows of water flowing through hydraulic flumes placed at different distances of test furrows represent the total infiltration.
  • Furrow dimensions are used to obtain the infiltration rates. See Chapter 3 for test calculations.
infiltration measurement for sprinkler irrigation
Infiltration Measurement For Sprinkler Irrigation
  • The mechanism of infiltration under sprinkler irrigation is different from the surface methods.
  • There is no head of water above the soil surface and the effect of sprinkler drops on the soil tends to form soil pans on the surface, reducing infiltration rate.
  • The ideal method of measuring infiltration rates for sprinkler irrigation is to use sprinklers at various rates of spraying.
  • Water could be sprayed into infiltrometers to obtain a small head of water and the intake rate found as described earlier.