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W. Cully Hession, P.E.

Professor of Biological Systems Engineering

Virginia Tech
204 Seitz Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Subject: NRHF Solar Watering System Technology Review

Dear Professor Hession,

Below is the enclosed technological review for the project titled: New River Hill Farm (NRHF)
Solar Watering System. The document contains an overview that details current available
technology for solar-powered water distribution systems. In addition, this technological review
contains the following appendices: alternative design brainstorming outcomes, anticipated
challenges and solutions, project timeline in the form of a Gantt chart, and team member
responsibilities and accomplishments.

Please contacts us with any questions, concerns, or comments.


Colby Dechiara Riley Finn Suraye Solis Kathryn Sledd

Enclosure: Technology Review

NRHF Solar Watering System
Technology Review
October 30 2016
BSE 4125 Senior Design

Team: NRHF
Colby Dechiara
Riley Finn
Kathryn Sledd
Suraye Solis

The New River Hill Farm (NRHF) was donated by O.D. Philen Jr. in 2012 to be operated
by the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) for educational purposes to promote
conservation practices in agriculture. To comply with this mission, our teams objective is to
design a solar powered watering system to supply water for the farms 50 cattle and 1
greenhouse. We will be working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), which
offers financial and technical assistance to farms throughout the US to implement conservation
Commonly, livestock farms allow their cattle to drink directly from local water sources
such as streams, rivers, or lakes. This can pollute these water systems directly through defecation
in and around water sources, as well as indirectly through erosion of plant life and natural filtration
systems that reduce polluted runoff leaving the farm. Solar powered watering systems for cattle
allow the pumping of water away from the source, preventing the destruction of riparian
vegetation. As a result, the natural filtration systems are left intact, which consequently improves
water quality and general ecosystem health. These systems also allow farmers to employ multiple
troughs, which encourages more sustainable grazing patterns through maximum uniform use of
pastureland. This leads to decreased overall runoff and further reduces water pollution.
To maintain a partnership with the NRCS, NRHF has measures in place to prevent cattle
from drinking directly from the source water. Consequently, water being pumped to cattle troughs
originates from the well that supplies water to the house, resulting in a reduced supply to the farm
residence. Our task is to modify the current watering system to run on solar power and pump water
from two ponds on site to the troughs located uphill in the pastureland. Furthermore, the system
must supply peak demand needs of the cattle and greenhouse throughout the year.
Topics discussed in this review include the following livestock watering systems: limited
direct access, gravity-fed, pumping, and hybrid designs. Solar-powered systems are discussed
more in depth as the alternative to be used at the farm. The existing watering facility at the farm
will also be discussed in this paper. The goal of this project is to utilize the existing infrastructure
available at the farm because the piping and trough systems are already installed and in use. Also
included in the review are design standards related to the technology available; these standards
include water quality, piping, pumping, storing, and solar power guidelines. Finally, we list topics
for further review, which may be relevant to improving the design.

Current State of Technology
Current livestock farms have three general options for watering cattle: direct access, gravity
flow, and pumping systems; many variations of each method do exist. These three main
alternatives for watering facilities are explored in this paper. However, the scope of this project
does not allow for the viability of each option due to existing natural features or present
infrastructure at the New River Hill Farm.
Direct access at the most basic level allows cattle to reach water at the source in the grazing
area. This can cause erosion of streams and rivers through destruction of riparian vegetation,
which otherwise filter phosphorous, nitrogen, sediments, and additional pollutants. If not enough
access points exist, it can prevent cattle from fully utilizing potential grazing areas, causing
overgrazing of sections near water sources and underutilization of others. This also leads to lower
infiltration rates and excess runoff through compaction and elimination of soil nurse crops. These
problems can be mitigated by creating controlled direct access points. This involves restricting
entry to certain points and installing heavy-use areas around these sites (UT-Ag. Ex. Service 1). A
heavy-use area is a zone of intensive use where reinforcing structures have been installed to
prevent erosion and degradation of water quality (NRCS 2). Examples of controlled access points
include the use of geosynthetics at stream crossings, fencing, and access ramps.
Geosynthetics are plastic (polymer) materials that are used with gravel to stabilize the
ground. These materials are dense, lightweight, strong, and typically have a long life. The
flexibility of the material allows for the geosynthetics to fit the shape of the stream. Geoweb and
geotextile are commonly used for stream crossings; each can be used together or separately.
Geoweb is a dense plastic with a lattice formation. The geoweb is placed on the streambed in the
crossing section; the cells in the lattice shape are then filled with gravel. This material holds the
gravel in place. Geotextile is a fabric that allows water, but not sediment, to traverse. These
materials allow for load distribution in the stream that then limits the amount of disturbance in the
streambed from cattle; hence, they help to reduce the effect cattle have on sediment transport and
erosion in the stream and on the stream bank. The construction and maintenance of stream
crossings are regulated under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. However, Section (404) (f) (1)
lists the construction and maintenance of farm and forest roads, in accordance with best
management practices as exempt from the need to obtain a permit. However, it is recommended
that local authorities be contacted to ensure that such practices are in accordance with

federal/state/local laws. Guide for the Use of Geotextile can be found in Part 642 and Design Note
24 of the National Engineering Handbook (NRCS 2).
In addition to the use of geotextiles, fencing is also a common practice used by farmers to
limit direct access. Such barricades can be used in conjunction with geotextiles in stream crossings
to limit cattle to the heavy use area. In the case of NRHF, access to the spring has been restricted;
and the water sources are two constructed ponds on site. Fencing can be used to limit cattle to one
area of the pond for direct access. An access ramp would allow cattle to obtain water directly from
the waterbody while reducing the disturbance on the water quality within both the pond and its
subsequent discharge. The slope of the access ramp is a primary design consideration; low slopes
are necessary for easy and safe access to the pond. The use of geotextile in access ramps can help
with stability and further reduce negative impacts of cattle to the water source. Research has shown
that limited direct access can greatly reduce the destruction of riparian zones, erosion and
streambank degradation, and defecation in water bodies and greatly improve the water quality of
the source water (NCS, n.d.).
Standards governing the use of direct access points include the NRCS Code 561, Heavy
Use Area Protection; NRCS Code 382, Fencing; NCRS Code 472, Access Control; NCRS Code
528, Prescribed Grazing; and NRCS 635, Vegetated Treatment Area. These standards, with the
exception of Code 561 (Heavy Use Area Protection), were reviewed by project team members;
however, they are not discussed further in this technological review because the use of limited
direct access has been dismissed as a viable option for the livestock watering system at NRHF.
NRHF utilizes rotational pasture grazing; however, the water source is not available for direct
access at each pasture. Therefore, the use of watering troughs is necessary. Furthermore, as stated
in the introduction, it is the priority of our project to utilize the existing infrastructure on the farm
to the largest extent possible. However, to obtain a clear understanding of the project, farm, and
available technologies, all alternative watering systems were researched.
Another alternative watering system is the gravity system. These systems provide a low-
cost method that can prevent many issues associated with direct-access systems. These involve
running water from a stream, river, or pond at a higher elevation to one or multiple troughs at a
lower elevation. If proper terrain is present, this can allow farmers to utilize rotational grazing
techniques without an external pumping source by implementing a waterfall system where one
water source supplies many troughs. Benefits of this system include the complete restriction of

cattle from the water source and the low cost and energy requirements for water distribution among
grazing land. On farms where terrain does not allow for this, a hybrid system can be used where
water is pumped to one reservoir that subsequently feeds multiple troughs at lower elevations. The
location of the two ponds downslope from the existing troughs at NRHF does not allow for the use
of a conventional gravity system. However, the hybrid system mentioned above forms the
framework around which the farms solar-powered watering system was developed.
Many pumping systems exist and range from AC pumping that is powered by local power
plants to cattle-powered pumping. Choosing which system to implement can depend on the
number of cattle, terrain, climate, and budget restrictions. Ram pumps utilize falling water to
pump water to an elevation of up to 75 ft. without electricity. These require a sufficient source of
falling water and have slow pumping rates, thus requiring a reservoir for larger cattle
numbers. Sling pumps utilize water flow to pump to heights greater than 50 ft. These also have
slow pumping rates and require sufficient flow rates as well as water depth. Nose pumps involve
a system where cattle push a lever with their nose to release water into a small drinking
bowl. These can lift water up to 15 ft., but water only cattle at a slow rate and one at a time,
restricting their use to small farms. As we will be using a hybrid solar-gravity powered system,
we will discuss solar systems in more detail, however, more information on these systems can be
found at (UT-Ag. Ex. Service 1).
Solar pumping systems utilize a solar powered pump, which are applicable to many
situations due to scalability. Depending on the needs of the farm, they can be constructed to utilize
a battery setup or supply power directly to the pump. Solar or DC pumps are designed to utilize
electricity directly from solar panels and require neither batteries nor a voltage converter. They
are designed to function at low-voltage or reduced light conditions without stalling or overheating
(UT-Ag. Ex. Service 2). These pumps normally provide low flow rates and are useful for systems
with reservoirs or small number of cattle. These require a small number of panels and utilize all
available sunlight, as well as eliminating high cost of batteries. Pumping options for solar pumps
include positive displacement pumps and centrifugal-type pumps (UT-Ag. Ex. Service 2). Battery-
coupled pumps supply a constant voltage throughout day and night, but require more initial
investment and maintenance for charge/pump controllers, and batteries. They may also reduce
system efficiency as output is dictated by the batteries rather than PV panels (UT-Ag. Ex. Service
2). The advantage to these systems, however, is that pumping is not constrained to sunny days.

Instead, the pump remains uninhibited in cloudy weather, drawing energy off the batteries to
prevent the need for a large reservoir (UT-Ag. Ex. Service 1).
The principal components of a solar-powered pump system include the PV array and its
support structure, the electric control, and the electric pump. A battery is optional, but often times
recommended; however, the objective of the solar-powered pump system is to store water, not
electricity. Calculations necessary for the design of this type include that for solar insolation,
volume of water requirements, total dynamic head, and quantity of water available. Solar
insolation is the measure of the amount of solar energy projected on a surface over a specified
length of time. It is strongly influenced by geographical location, season, and cloud cover. It is
also necessary to have knowledge of the water quality and of the pipeline through which the water
must flow (NRCS 1).
These aforementioned factors will play a large role in determining the type of solar-power
pump system is best for NRHF. The current volume requirements of the farm are determined by
the needs of the livestock and the greenhouse at NRHF; this requirement is currently
approximately 3950 gallons per day. Other design considerations for a solar-powered pump
system are being developed with the existing infrastructure in mind. As was stated in the
introduction, certain variables e.g. trough type and location and the piping system, are currently in
use at the farm. Therefore, factors such as head loss and friction loss have been predetermined,
and our design will not have a great influence on these elements. The existing system is described
The NRHF farm has utilized a solar powered pumping system in the past to generate
enough electricity to spark the flow of water through the designed trough system. This
configuration was in use for over 20 years, but has since deteriorated. Following disconnection,
the farm has been utilizing a combination of pumping and gravity flow as a way of transporting
water through two separate watering systems consisting of gravity, concrete, and pressure troughs.
These two systems are separated by a road that runs through the middle of the farm, which acts as
a divider. Pump system one (PS1), or the house side system, supports six troughs and pump system
two (PS2), or the hillside system, supports four troughs. Currently, a pressure pump is stationed
above the highest elevated trough in each pump network. The highest trough acts as a reservoir to
supply water to the remaining troughs in the setup. The flow of water by gravity is controlled by a
valve near the most elevated trough. It is estimated that the solar-powered pump would have to

generate enough energy to move water from pond one, the main source of water for PS1, up an
elevation of roughly 150 feet to the first tire trough. Gravity flow will then be initiated to move
water from the tire trough to the remaining four troughs in the system. Alternately, PS2 has a max
elevation difference calculated to be roughly 250 feet. After water is pumped to the max elevation
at the trough, a similar gravity flow will be triggered for water to reach the remaining three troughs.
Several subsurface waterlines run between the troughs in each system to enable the flow
of water. NRCS Livestock Pipeline standards dictate the criteria for the waterlines in the farm.
Factors such as head loss and friction loss are key components of the design to ensure that the
demands for water are achieved. These calculations can be made using Hazen-Williams, Darcy-
Weisbach, or Mannings equations. Although piping already exists, it was important to review
these standards because of the effect of pumping and flow on the waterlines.
The NRHF system utilizes three main types of troughs, namely the concrete, frost-free
tanks; the tire tanks; and the portable, seasonal tanks that are used as gravity troughs. The main
advantages of the concrete troughs are their ability to store up to 250 gallons of water, the greater
open area available for a large quantity of livestock to be able to drink simultaneously, and their
ability to regulate temperature during the cold months of the year using soil as insulation to avoid
freezing during the winter. PS1 and PS2 contain three and one concrete, frost-free troughs,
respectively. A disadvantage of these troughs is their inability to be split and shared easily between
multiple pastures using fences; instead, a special double-sided trough must be used in order to
provide water for multiple pastures. Furthermore, large industrial tires can be converted into tire
troughs that are relatively effective at being used to provide water to livestock on farms. The
advantage of this device is their ability to hold up to 400 gallons of water, which is enough to water
80 cattle for one day. In addition to the effective number of cattle that can be provided for, tire
troughs make use of waste from one industrial sector and provide a service for another. The main
downfalls of tire troughs are the overall weight of the tiresome can weigh up to 1000 pound
and some animals are attracted to chewing on the beads of the tire, which could adversely affect
the health of these animals. The third and final type of trough used at the farm is the portable,
gravity trough. The main advantage of these troughs is their mobility. These devices are extremely
effective in rotational grazing, such as occurs at NRHF, because they are easily moved from one
pasture to the next. The material that is used to create these troughs are typically plastic barrels,
which are very light. The main disadvantage to portable troughs is that size is typically limited in

exchange for portability. The smallest size of a portable trough is 55 gallons, which is the most
effective for the functionality that is asked of these devices. Having a 1000-gallon portable trough,
while feasible, is very ineffective because once volumes of this extent are reached, the functionality
of being able to transport them from pasture to pasture is lost (NRCS 5).

Summary and Conclusion
The three main types of watering facility alternatives are direct access, gravity flow, and
pumping systems. The contact cattle have with the water source in direct access systems result in
the most impact on water quality and ecological health. However, there are practices available to
limit the exposure of livestock to the water in direct access configurations. The second method,
gravity flow, can completely remove the water source from livestock exposure. This configuration
uses natural topography to move water located at higher elevation to troughs at lower elevations.
Where this natural topography does not exist, pumping systems move water from the source to
other areas for cattle to gain access without coming in direct contact with the waterbody. These
pumping systems can be powered by many means, ranging from local power plants to the cattle
themselves to renewable sources of energy. The focus of this project is to use solar energy to power
a pump system.
The existing natural factors and infrastructure at NRHF allows a hybrid system to be
utilized, whereby water will be pumped to a higher elevation using solar-power, and gravity flow
will be triggered to allow the movement of that water to troughs downslope. Various types of
pumps and storage alternativesboth water and energyare available for this configuration.
Each alternative must be evaluated carefully to ensure that the system will function at its highest
possible performance. Furthermore, a cost analysis of these choices must be reviewed in order to
select an appropriate option. Additionally, the vulnerability of solar panels to lightning must be
investigated. The compatibility of any new technologies implemented with existing infrastructure
must be assessed for every aspect of the design.

NCS. (n.d.). Developing Off-Stream Water Sources. Retrieved from:
Newriverswd. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from
USDA-NRCS. (2010). Oregon Technical Note No. 28-Design of Small Photovoltaic (PV) Solar-
Powered Water Pump Systems. Retrieved from:
USDA-NRCS. (2010). Virginia Engineering Design Note #561-Heavy Use Area Protection.
Available at:
USDA-NRCS. (2010). Virginia Engineering Design Note #716-Renewable Energy System.
Available at:
USDA-NRCS. (2010). Virginia Engineering Design Note #516-Livestock Pipeline. Available at:
USDA-NRCS. (2012). Virginia Engineering Design Note #533-Pumpling Plant. Available at:
USDA-NRCS. (2006). Watering Systems for Serious Grazers. Missouri, United States.
Retrieved from:
UT-Agricultural Extension Service. (n.d.) Selection of Alternative Livestock Watering System.
PB 1641-2M-4/00. Retrieved from:
UT-Agricultural Extension Service. (n.d.) Solar-Powered Livestock Watering System. PB 1640-
1M-1/00. Retrieved from:

Appendix 1: Potential Design Solutions Brainstorming

The scope of the project limits the technology alternatives we have available to achieve our
goal. The following alternatives have been developed after our meeting with Dr. Yagow and Ms.
Ogle on September 21 2016, review of documents sent to us by our multiple advisors, our own
research, and our site visit.

Alternative Description
Solar power pump system with reservoir The system will use a solar pump to move
water up to a reservoir in order to have extra
storage for gravity flow on days where
sunlight maybe limited e.g. cloudy days
Solar power pump system with battery The system will store some of the energy
generated in a battery in order for pumping to
still occur on days where energy generation
may be less e.g. cloudy days
Solar power pump system with battery and The system will provide both a reservoir and
reservoir a battery to maintain water flow during times
of unfavorable weather

These alternatives are very broad. Further research and the start of calculations will allow
the team to decide on the best design option. Within each design choice listed in the table above,
the types of pumps, solar panels, mounting, and lightning protection will also need to be decided
later in the design process.

Appendix 2: Challenges Encountered and Plans to Address

The greatest challenge for this project is the unfamiliarity that team members have with
solar systems. A clear understanding of solar power is necessary for the proper design of the
watering system. Furthermore, a good comprehension of how solar power works in conjunction
with the other elements of the system (pumps, piping etc.) is necessary to ensure that proper
standards are being met and that the configuration allows for the greatest efficiency and minimal
cost. To address this challenge, research and further reading is important. Additionally, Dr. John
Ignosh serves as the secondary advisor for this team; Dr. Ignosh is an extension specialist with
great experience in solar power. The team hopes to take advantage of this great resource throughout
the year in order to gain further knowledge, clarification, and advice on utilizing solar power in
this design project.
Moreover, a proper cost analysis will likely need to be conducted in order to determine the
best design alternative. In the past, team members have mainly been using relative costs when
evaluating choices in the classroom setting. However, this project will require a more in depth
review of cost. The team hopes to utilize Ms. Sharyl Ogle, our industry advisor, who has had years
of experience working with NRCS. Therefore, we hope to reach out to Ms. Ogle to tap into some
of her profound knowledge and especially her experience.
Lastly, time management will need to be addressed to ensure that any necessary site visits
are made when Ms. Ogle or another resource at the farm is available. These visits take a large
portion of the day; therefore, they need to be thoroughly planned so that they can be the most
beneficial. The initial visit to NRHF included all team members and our primary advisor, Dr. Gene
Yagow. However, any remaining visits can be made by the available team members at the time.

Appendix 3: Gannt Chart

Appendix 4: Team Member Responsibilities and Accomplishments

The capabilities of each team member were deemed as equal; therefore, responsibilities for
this document were chosen based on preference. Strengths of each team member were naturally
expressed and utilized to ensure that the report was completed in a satisfactory manner. The tasks
completed by each team member are listed below:

Colby Dechiara Review of all existing technology at the farm

Appendix 1
Riley Finn Introduction
Review of alternative watering facilities
Review of pumping systems
Review of solar pumping systems
Appendix 1
Suraye Solis Review of direct/limited direct water systems
Review of solar-powered pumping systems
Review of Standards
Appendix 1
Appendix 2
Appendix 3
Appendix 4
Editing and Compiling