Author: Blaine Hanson, UC Irrigation and Drainage Specialist
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Efficient furrow irrigation requiresreducing deep percolation and surfacerunoff losses. Water that percolates belowthe root zone (deep percolation) is lost tocrop production, although deep percola-tion may be necessary to control salinity.Deep percolation can be reduced byimproving the evenness of the appliedwater and preventing overirrigation.Surface runoff can be captured with atailwater recovery system and used onlower-lying lands or recirculated on thefield being irrigated.
Uniformity of Infiltrated Water
One way to reduce deep percolationlosses is to apply water more evenlythroughout the field. The greater theevenness or uniformity, the greater thepotential for reducing deep percolation.The uniformity of infiltrated water ismeasured by the distribution uniformity-an index of the evenness of the appliedwater.In furrow irrigation systems, uniformitydepends on the time required for water toflow across the field (the advance time),the irrigation set time, and the variabilityof the soil. Because of the advance time,more water infiltrates at the upper end of the field (the beginning of the furrow)than at the lower end (the end of thefurrow), resulting in nonuniform infiltra-tion.Uniformity can be improved by gettingthe water to the end of the field faster— that is, by decreasing the advance time.The methods recommended for decreas-ing the advance time are as follows:1.Reducing the run length by half. This iseffective for field lengths of 1,000 feet or longer. The set time must then be reducedby at least half to prevent over irrigation.This can reduce deep percolation by atleast 50 percent.2. Increasing the furrow inflow rate. Theset time must be reduced by an amountequal to the difference between the oldand new advance times. This measuremay not be effective on cracking soils.3. Improving slope uniformity. Gradereversals and excessive undulation canincrease advance times. Laser grading cangreatly reduce slope nonuniformity.4. Using furrow torpedoes to smooth thefurrow surface and to compact the soilsurface. Torpedoes may have little effecton cracking clay soils.Since these methods will increase surfacerunoff, tailwater recovery systems mustbe used to recirculate the tailwater either onto the field being irrigated or for useelsewhere. If the tailwater is recirculated,additional furrows should be irrigated inorder to stretch limited water supplies.Tailwater can also be reduced through“cutback irrigation,” in which the furrowflow rate is decreased once the advance iscompleted.
The uniformity of a furrow irrigationsystem can be quickly estimated bycalculating the advance ratio, defined asthe irrigation set time minus the on-timedivided by the advance time. The follow-ing guidelines can be used to estimate thedistribution uniformity from the advanceratio:
Sandy Soils/Sandy Loam Soils(Cultivated Prior to Irrigation)
AdvanceDistributionRatioUniformity1.0-1.5less than 60% (poor)1.5-2.0at least 75 - 80%2.5-3.0at least 80 - 85%4.0-at least 90%
Loams/Clay Loam Soil(Cultivated Prior to Irrigation)
AdvanceDistributionRatioUniformity1.0-1.25less than 70% (poor)1.5-2.0at least 80 - 85%2.5-3.0at least 90%