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Irrigation System

What is an irrigation system?

An irrigation system is a set of structures that allow soil to be watered, usually to provide sufficient hydration for a crop. It is usually composed of tubes, hydraulic pumps, and sprinklers.

What are irrigation systems used for?

Irrigation systems are used to ensure that large areas of vegetation receive sufficient water, minimizing human effort as well as water losses.

Some of the most important applications of irrigation systems are:

  • Agriculture.
  • Maintaining green spaces along roads.
  • Irrigation of parks and gardens, both public and private.

What types of irrigation systems are there?

Irrigation systems must be tailored to:

  • The vegetation.
  • The characteristics of the land where the vegetation is located.
  • The climatic conditions.

Depending on where water is used, irrigation may be:

  • Superficial.
  • Underground.
  • Localized.

According to the systems used, irrigation may be:

  • In furrows

This is one of the oldest, most traditional irrigation systems. It consists of digging furrows along where the crop will be, which pulls water down by gravity.

For obvious reasons, this type of irrigation can be implemented only on land with certain topographical characteristics. However, its characteristics allow for the use of natural resources (rivers, slopes, etc.), and it minimizes energy investment.

This system is easy to implement, but it is not very efficient (it requires large amounts of water); poor practices can reduce its efficiency even more. Irrigation with furrows is difficult to apply in times of extreme drought; it also doesn’t allow for automation or controlled flow. Another risk of irrigation with furrows is improper drainage, which can lead to pooling.

  • Sprinklers

Sprinklers are devices connected to hoses that can disperse water in a direction over a variable distance according to pressure. The water from sprinklers is spread similarly to rain, and its range is from 10 to 60 meters.

The location of the sprinklers is essential to avoid over-watering and pooling, as well as dead zones that don’t get any water.  On the other hand, the pressure must be regulated based on the surface to be watered and the type of plants to prevent the leaves from suffering any damage.

Sprinkler irrigation can be done using fixed sprinklers (fixed in the ground) or mobile ones. Fixed sprinklers are used for small areas and those with greater aesthetic requirements (such as parks and gardens). On the other hand, mobile sprinklers are usually used for large areas of crops, on both flat and inclined areas, and they have different patterns that allow them to distribute water more efficiently.

In addition to providing soil moisture for plant nutrition, sprinklers fulfill other functions that rain performs in nature, such as cleaning dust and other particles off of leaves. However, this can also have negative consequences on certain types of vegetation that require direct watering to the roots and that are prone to developing fungi and other diseases if too much moisture accumulates on the leaves.

Sprinkler irrigation uses less water than the furrow irrigation system but more than drip irrigation.

  • Drip irrigation

Also called trickle irrigation, this consists of a dropper installed along a hose or pipe, which drips drops of water directly into plants’ root zones.

This type of irrigation, which is very localized, reduces the proliferation of unwanted vegetation. It is used in areas where water resources are very limited because it minimizes dispersion.

The main disadvantages of this irrigation system are the initial investment, the difficulty of maintenance (due to possible obstructions in the drip systems), and that it cannot be used with crops that involve plowing because the soil cannot be removed after its installation.

  • Exudation

This consists of a porous hose that is buried to a depth of about 10 cm. Unlike drip irrigation, this system is not localized: it moistens the entire soil. Thanks to the fact that it is used underground, irrigation water does not evaporate.

Exudation irrigation requires a less complex set-up compared to other types of irrigation, and it allows crops to be changed. Another advantage is that it works with low and variable pressures. However, the hoses are prone to clogging due to sediment from the water and the proliferation of algae and mold.

Some irrigation systems use rainwater as a supply via the installation of collection barrels. This increases the system’s sustainability, especially for plants in enclosed spaces (greenhouses, indoor gardens, etc.) that do not receive any other type of irrigation.

These are some of the most well-known and used systems. However, there are other less common systems, such as flood irrigation, which is famous for use with rice.

What are smart irrigation systems?

The new frontier of irrigation systems is the incorporation of ICT (information and communication technologies). Thanks to technological applications, it is possible to maximize the efficiency of irrigation (using less water resources with better results) and achieve healthier crops.

The main features of intelligent irrigation are climatic stations to help predict plants’ water requirements, humidity sensors in the ground, suction probes to measure the level of nutrients in soils, and solar energy systems to power the systems.

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