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Leaching - Drought Tips

Leaching - Drought Tips

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Leaching - Drought Tips
Leaching - Drought Tips

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Published by: Cottonwood Creek Watershed on Jul 15, 2012
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Author: Blaine Hanson, UC Irrigation and Drainage Specialist
 Number 92-16 
drought tipsdrought tips
Leaching is applying irrigation water inexcess of the soil moisture depletion levelto remove salts in the root zone. Theexcess water flows down through the rootzone, carrying salts with it.This excess water, expressed as a percentof the applied irrigation water, is theleaching fraction. Effective salinitycontrol means ensuring that the leachingfraction is large enough to preventexcessive salt accumulation in the rootzone.The actual leaching fraction is the percentof the applied irrigation water (minus anysurface runoff) that drains below the rootzone. It is defined as:LF = (100) D
where LF = leaching fraction (%),D
= amount of water draining below theroot zone, andD
= amount of applied irrigation minussurface runoff.Because measuring the actual amount of drainage water is impractical, techniqueshave been developed to relate the leachingfraction to the average root zone soilsalinity and to the salinity of the irrigationwater.The following procedure can be used toestimate the leaching fraction:1.Obtain soil samples from within theroot zone. Each sample should repre-sent equal depth intervals.2.Measure the electrical conductivity(ECe) of the saturated extract of the soilsamples (part of the laboratory analy-sis).3.Measure the electrical conductivity(ECi) of the irrigation water.4.Calculate the average root zone salinityby summing the values of each depthincrement and dividing by the number of increments.5.Use figure 1 to estimate the leachingfraction. Draw a horizontal line throughthe value of ECe and draw a verticalline through the value of ECi. Theintercept of these lines is the leachingfraction. Estimate the leaching fractionfrom the values assigned to the diagonallines nearest the intercept point.
What is the leaching fractionfor the following root zone salinity whenthe EC of the irrigation water is 1 dS/m?
Depth interval ECe(feet)(dS/m)
0-1 1.01-2 3.62-3 6.23-4 9.4The average root zone salinity is(1.0 + 3.6 + 6.2 + 9.4) / 4 = 5.0. Fromfigure 1, for an ECe = 5.0 dS/m and anECi = 1.0 dS/m, the leaching fraction isabout 4%.In this example, soil salinity increased asthe depth of the root zone increased. If,however, soil salinity is highest near thesurface and is relatively constant or decreases with depth, the above procedurewill not apply. In that case, the leachingfraction would be zero, regardless of soilsalinity levels.
Estimating the Leaching FractionNeeded to Prevent Yield Loss
The leaching requirement is the leachingfraction (the amount of excess water)needed to keep the root zone salinitylevels within that tolerated by the crop.This requirement depends on the crop'stolerance to salinity and on the salinity of the irrigation water.The procedure for estimating the leachingrequirement is as follows:1. Determine the threshold value salinity(ECt) for the crop. The threshold valuesalinity is the maximum soil salinitytolerated by the crop without any yieldreduction. These tolerance levels aregiven in the
drought tips
92-17 (Water Quality Guidelines for Vegetable andRow Crops),
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92-18 (Water Quality Guidelines for Field and Forage
Crops), and
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92-19 (Water Quality Guidelines for Trees andVines).2. Determine the electrical conductivity(ECi) of the irrigation water.3. Use figure 1 to estimate the leachingrequirement. First, select the appropri-ate ECT value (the maximum salinitythe crop can tolerate) from the tables in
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92-17 (Water QualityGuidelines for Vegetable and RowCrops),
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92-18 (Water Quality Guidelines for Field and ForageCrops), or 
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92-19 (Water Quality Guidelines for Trees andVines).Using figure 1, draw a horizontal linefrom the selected ECt value (shown alongthe left side of the figure as mean rootzone salinity), and a vertical line throughthe appropriate ECi value (shown alongthe bottom of the figure as salinity of applied water). The point at which the twolines intersect is the estimated leachingrequirement.
What is the leaching require-ment for cotton irrigated with water having an ECi of 2 dS/m?Cotton will tolerate a maximum root zonesalinity of 7.7 with no yield reduction(from the leaflet “Crop Salt Tolerance”).For an ECt = 7.7 dS/m and an ECi = 2dS/m, the leaching requirement is about 5percent (from figure 2). If the leachingfraction is larger than the leachingrequirement, salinity control should beadequate. But if the leaching fraction isless than the leaching requirement, thesoil salinity may increase to levels greater than what the crop can tolerate without areduction in yield.
Leaching Requirements of theSan Joaquin Valley
Leaching requirements for areas of theSan Joaquin Valley where saline shallowwater tables are not present have beenestimated using the procedure outlinedabove. In these areas, the EC of theirrigation water may be between 0.3 dS/mand 0.5 dS/m. Because of the low-salinityirrigation water, leaching requirements arevery low. Table 1 lists leaching require-ments for some San Joaquin Valley crops.
Attainable Leaching Practices
The actual leaching fraction at anylocation in a field partially depends on theuniformity of applied water. Uniformity isdefined as the evenness of the appliedwater. If the same depth of water isapplied everywhere in the field, theuniformity is 100 percent. However, sinceno irrigation system is capable of a 100-percent uniformity, different parts of thefield will always receive differentamounts of water. The more nonuniformthe water application, the greater thedifferences in the amount of water received and the higher the averageleaching fraction.Table 2 lists average leaching fractions for various distribution uniformities (thedistribution uniformity is an index used toquantify the uniformity of applied water)needed to maintain a 5-percent leachingfraction in the least-watered areas of thefield.Hand-move sprinklers have DU's of 70percent to 75 percent under low windconditions. For these systems, nearly 37percent more water in excess of the soilmoisture depletion is needed to maintainat least a 5-percent leaching fraction. Theaverage leaching fraction maybe reducedto 26 percent for linear-move sprinkler machines or for low-energy preciseapplication (LEPA) machines, which havemeasured DU's of between 80 percent and85 percent.Theoretically, trickle irrigation systemscan have a DU of nearly 95 percent,although most measured DU's have been80 percent to 90 percent. Even if the DUis 95 percent, 14 percent of the appliedwater will be subsurface drainage.This analysis shows that applyingirrigation water to obtain a very smallleaching fraction throughout a field is notpossible if adequate leaching is to occur,even with very high uniformities. Verylow leaching fractions are attainable onlyby deficit-irrigating part of the field. If theaverage leaching fraction of the lowquarter is 5 percent, for a DU = 75percent, the field-averaged leachingfraction would be about 30 percent. Areasdeficit-irrigated, however, receive noleaching fraction, and therefore salinityproblems may occur over the long term.This would be particularly serious under surface irrigation and trickle irrigation,where patterns of variability of appliedwater are consistent from irrigation toirrigation. It may be less serious under sprinklers, where a more random patterncan occur.
DistributionAverageUniformityLeaching(DU)%Praction(LF) %75 3783 2695 14
Table 2. Average leaching fractions needed tomaintain at least a 5-percent leaching fractionthroughout the field.
LeachingCrop Requirement (%) Almonds6Barley1Beans 10Canteloupe5Corn5Cotton2Lettuce8
Table 1. Leaching requirements for someSan Joaquin Valley Crops (ECi= 0.5 dS/m)
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Figure 1. Salinity of Applied Water, dS/m
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
L = 510203040100
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