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Water: Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments

F. Irrigation Water Management

To reduce nonpoint source pollution of surface waters caused by irrigation:


  1. Operate the irrigation system so that the timing and amount of irrigation water applied match crop water needs. This will require, as a minimum: (a) the accurate measurement of soil-water depletion volume and the volume of irrigation water applied, and (b) uniform application of water.
  2. When chemigation is used, include backflow preventers for wells, minimize the harmful amounts of chemigated waters that discharge from the edge of the field, and control deep percolation. In cases where chemigation is performed with furrow irrigation systems, a tailwater management system may be needed.

The following limitations and special conditions apply:


  1. In some locations, irrigation return flows are subject to other water rights or are required to maintain stream flow. In these special cases, on-site reuse could be precluded and would not be considered part of the management measure for such locations.
  2. By increasing the water use efficiency, the discharge volume from the system will usually be reduced. While the total pollutant load may be reduced somewhat, there is the potential for an increase in the concentration of pollutants in the discharge. In these special cases, where living resources or human health may be adversely affected and where other management measures (nutrients and pesticides) do not reduce concentrations in the discharge, increasing water use efficiency would not be considered part of the management measure.
  3. In some irrigation districts, the time interval between the order for and the delivery of irrigation water to the farm may limit the irrigator's ability to achieve the maximum on-farm application efficiencies that are otherwise possible.
  4. In some locations, leaching is necessary to control salt in the soil profile. Leaching for salt control should be limited to the leaching requirement for the root zone.
  5. Where leakage from delivery systems or return flows supports wetlands or wildlife refuges, it may be preferable to modify the system to achieve a high level of efficiency and then divert the "saved water" to the wetland or wildlife refuge. This will improve the quality of water delivered to wetlands or wildlife refuges by preventing the introduction of pollutants from irrigated lands to such diverted water.
  6. In some locations, sprinkler irrigation is used for frost or freeze protection, or for crop cooling. In these special cases, applications should be limited to the amount necessary for crop protection, and applied water should remain on-site.

1. Applicability

This management measure is intended to be applied by States to activities on irrigated lands, including agricultural crop and pasture land (except for isolated fields of less than 10 acres in size that are not contiguous to other irrigated lands); orchard land; specialty cropland; and nursery cropland. Those landowners already practicing effective irrigation management in conformity with the irrigation water management measure may not need to purchase additional devices to measure soil-water depletion or the volume of irrigation water applied, and may not need to expend additional labor resources to manage the irrigation system. Under the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990, States are subject to a number of requirements as they develop coastal nonpoint programs in conformity with this measure and will have some flexibility in doing so. The application of management measures by States is described more fully in Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program: Program Development and Approval Guidance, published jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce.


2. Description

The goal of this management measure is to reduce nonpoint source pollution of surface waters caused by irrigation. For the purposes of this management measure, "harmful amounts" are those amounts that pose a significant risk to aquatic plant or animal life, ecosystem health, human health, or agricultural or industrial uses of the water.

A problem associated with irrigation is the movement of pollutants from the land into ground or surface water. This movement of pollutants is affected by the pathways taken by applied water and precipitation (Figure 2-15); the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the irrigated land; the type of irrigation system used; crop type; the degree to which erosion and sediment control, nutrient management, and pesticide management are employed; and the management of the irrigation system (Figure 2-16).

Return flows, runoff, and leachate from irrigated lands may transport the following types of pollutants:


  • Sediment and particulate organic solids;
  • Particulate-bound nutrients, chemicals, and metals, such as phosphorus, organic nitrogen, a portion of applied pesticides, and a portion of the metals applied with some organic wastes;
  • Soluble nutrients, such as nitrogen, soluble phosphorus, a portion of the applied pesticides, soluble metals, salts, and many other major and minor nutrients; and
  • Bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms.

Transport of irrigation water from the source of supply to the irrigated field via open canals and laterals can be a source of water loss if the canals and laterals are not lined. Water is also transported through the lower ends of canals and laterals because of the flow-through requirements to maintain water levels in them. In many soils, unlined canals and laterals lose water via seepage in bottom and side walls. Seepage water either moves into the ground water through infiltration or forms wet areas near the canal or lateral. This water will carry with it any soluble pollutants in the soil, thereby creating the potential for pollution of ground or surface water.

Since irrigation is a consumptive use of water, any pollutants in the source waters that are not consumed by the crop (e.g., salts, pesticides, nutrients) can be concentrated in the soil, concentrated in the leachate or seepage, or concentrated in the runoff or return flow from the system. Salts that concentrate in the soil profile must be removed for sustained crop production.

For additional information regarding the problems caused by these pollutants, see Section I.F of this chapter.

Application of this management measure will reduce the waste of irrigation water, improve the water use efficiency, and reduce the total pollutant discharge from an irrigation system. It is not the intent of this management measure to require the replacement of major components of an irrigation system. Instead, the expectation is that components to manage the timing and amount of water applied will be provided where needed, and that special precautions (i.e., backflow preventers, prevent tailwater, and control deep percolation) will be taken when chemigation is used.

Irrigation scheduling is the use of water management strategies to prevent over-application of water while minimizing yield loss due to water shortage or drought stress (Evans et al., 1991d). Irrigation scheduling will ensure that water is applied to the crop when needed and in the amount needed. Effective scheduling requires knowledge of the following factors (Evans et al., 1991c; Evans et al., 1991d):


  • Soil properties;
  • Soil-water relationships and status;
  • Type of crop and its sensitivity to drought stress;
  • The stage of crop development;
  • The status of crop stress;
  • The potential yield reduction if the crop remains in a stressed condition;
  • Availability of a water supply; and
  • Climatic factors such as rainfall and temperature.

Much of the above information can be found in Soil Conservation Service soil surveys and Extension Service literature. However, all information should be site-specific and verified in the field.

There are three ways to determine when irrigation is needed (Evans et al., 1991d):


  • Measuring soil water;
  • Estimating soil water using an accounting approach; and
  • Measuring crop stress.

Soil water can be measured using a range of devices (Evans et al., 1991b), including tensiometers, which measure soil water suction (Figure 2-17); electrical resistance blocks (also called gypsum blocks or moisture blocks), which measure electrical resistance that is related to soil water by a calibration curve (Figure 2-18); neutron probes, which directly measure soil water; Phene cells, which are used to estimate soil water based on the relationship of heat conductance to soil water content; and time domain reflectometers, which can be used to estimate soil water based on the time it takes for an electromagnetic pulse to pass through the soil. The appropriate device for any given situation is a function of the acreage of irrigated land, soils, cost, and other site-specific factors.

Accounting approaches estimate the quantity of soil water remaining in the effective root zone and can be simple or complex. In essence, daily water inputs and outputs are measured or estimated to determine the depletion volume. Irrigation is typically scheduled when the allowable depletion volume is nearly reached.

Once the decision to irrigate has been made, it is important to determine the amount of water to apply. Irrigation needs are a function of the soil water depletion volume in the effective root zone, the rate at which the crop uses water (Figure 2-19), and climatic factors. Accurate measurements of the amount of water applied are essential to maximizing irrigation efficiency. The quantity of water applied can be measured by such devices as a totalizing flow meter that is installed in the delivery pipe. If water is supplied by ditch or canal, weirs or flumes in the ditch can be used to measure the rate of flow.

Deep percolation can be greatly reduced by limiting the amount of applied water to the amount that can be stored in the plant root zone. The deep percolation that is necessary for salt management can be accomplished with a sprinkler system by using longer sets or very slow pivot speeds or by applying water during the non-growing season.

Reducing overall water use in irrigation will allow more water for stream flow control and will increase flow for diversion to marshes, wetlands, or other environmental uses. If the source is ground water, reducing overall use will maintain higher ground-water levels, which could be important for maintaining base flow in nearby streams. Reduced water diversion will reduce the salt or pollutant load brought into the irrigation system, thereby reducing the volume of these pollutants that must be managed or discharged from the system.

Although this management measure does not require the replacement of major components of an irrigation system, such changes can sometimes result in greater pollution prevention. Consequently, the following is a broader discussion of the types of design and operational aspects of the overall irrigation system that could be addressed to provide additional control of nonpoint source pollution beyond that which is required by this management measure. Overall, five basic aspects of the irrigation system can be addressed:


  1. Irrigation scheduling;
  2. Efficient application of irrigation water;
  3. Efficient transport of irrigation water;
  4. Use of runoff or tailwater; and
  5. Management of drainage water.

This management measure addresses irrigation scheduling, efficient application, and the control of tailwater when chemigation is used. The efficient transport of irrigation water, the use of runoff or tailwater, and the management of drainage water are additional considerations.

Although not a required element of this management measure, the seepage losses associated with canals and laterals can be reduced by lining the canals and laterals, or can be eliminated by conversion from open canals and laterals to pipelines. Flow-through losses will not be changed by canal or lateral lining, but can be eliminated or greatly reduced by conversion to pipelines.

Surface irrigation systems are usually designed to have a percentage (up to 30 percent) of the applied water lost as tailwater. This tailwater should be managed with a tailwater recovery system, but such a system is not required as a component of this management measure unless chemigation is practiced. Tailwater recovery systems usually include a system of ditches or berms to direct water from the end of the field to a small storage structure. Tailwater is stored until it can be either pumped back to the head end of the field and reused or delivered to additional irrigated land. In some locations, there may be downstream water rights that are dependent upon tailwater, or tailwater may be used to maintain flow in streams. These requirements may take legal precedence over the reuse of tailwater.

Well-designed and managed irrigation systems remove runoff and leachate efficiently; control deep percolation; and minimize erosion from applied water, thereby reducing adverse impacts on surface water and ground water. If a tailwater recovery system is used, it should be designed to allow storm runoff to flow through the system without damage. Additional surface drainage structures such as filter strips, field drainage ditches, subsurface drains, and water table control may also be used to control runoff and leachate if site conditions warrant their use. Sprinkler systems will usually require design and installation of a system to remove and manage storm runoff.

A properly designed and operated sprinkler irrigation system should have a uniform distribution pattern. The volume of water applied can be changed by changing the total time the sprinkler runs; by changing the pressure at which the sprinkler operates; or, in the case of a center pivot, by adjusting the speed of travel of the system. There should be no irrigation runoff or tailwater from most well-designed and well-operated sprinkler systems.

The type of irrigation system used will dictate which practices can be employed to improve water use efficiency and to obtain the most benefit from scheduling. Flood systems will generally infiltrate more water at the upper end of the field than at the lower end because water is applied to the upper end of the field first and remains on that portion of the field longer. This will cause the upper end of the field to have greater deep percolation losses than the lower end. Although not required as a component of this management measure, this situation can sometimes be improved by changing slope throughout the length of the field. This type of change may not be practical or affordable in many cases. For example, furrow length can be reduced by cutting the field in half and applying water in the middle of the field. This will require more pipe or ditches to distribute the water across the middle of the field.


3. Management Measure Selection

This management measure was selected based on an evaluation of available information that documents the beneficial effects of improved irrigation management (see Section II.F.4 of this chapter). Specifically, the available information shows that irrigation efficiencies can be improved with scheduling that is based on knowledge of water needs and measurement of applied water. Improved irrigation efficiency can result in the reduction or elimination of runoff and return flows, as well as the control of deep percolation. Secondly, backflow preventers can be used to protect wells from chemicals used in chemigation. In addition, tailwater prevention, or tailwater management where necessary, is effective in reducing the discharge of soluble and particulate pollutants to receiving waters.

By reducing the volume of water applied to agricultural lands, pollutant loads are also reduced. Less interaction between irrigation water and agricultural land will generally result in less pollutant transport from the land and less leaching of pollutants to ground water.

The practices that can be used to implement this measure on a given site are commonly used and are recommended by SCS for general use on irrigated lands. By designing the measure using the appropriate mix of structural and management practices for a given site, there is no undue economic impact on the operator. Many of the practices that can be used to implement this measure (e.g., water-measuring devices, tailwater recovery systems, and backflow preventers) may already be required by State or local rules or may otherwise be in use on irrigated fields. Since many irrigators may already be using systems that satisfy or partly satisfy the intent of the management measure, the only action that may be necessary will be to determine the effectiveness of the existing practices and add additional practices, if needed.


4. Effectiveness Information

Following is information on pollution reductions that can be expected from installation of the management practices outlined within this management measure.

In a review of a wide range of agricultural control practices, EPA (1982) determined that increased use of call periods, on-demand water ordering, irrigation scheduling, and flow measurement and control would all result in decreased losses of salts, sediment, and nutrients (Table 2-28 (25k)). Various alterations to existing furrow irrigation systems were also determined to be beneficial to water quality, as were tailwater management and seepage control.

Logan (1990) reported that chemical backsiphon devices are highly effective at preventing the introduction of pesticides and nitrogen to ground water. The American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE) specifies safety devices for chemigation that will prevent the pollution of a water supply used solely for irrigation (ASAE, 1989).

Properly designed sprinkler irrigation systems will have little runoff (Boyle Engineering Corp., 1986). Furrow irrigation and border check or border strip irrigation systems typically produce tailwater, and tailwater recovery systems may be needed to manage tailwater losses (Boyle Engineering Corp., 1986). Tailwater can be managed by applying the water to additional fields, by treating and releasing the tailwater, or by reapplying the tailwater to upslope cropland.

The Rock Creek Rural Clean Water Program (RCWP) project in Idaho is the source of much information regarding the benefits of irrigation water management (USDA, 1991). All crops in the Rock Creek watershed are irrigated with water diverted from the Snake River and delivered through a network of canals and laterals. The combined implementation of irrigation management practices, sediment control practices, and conservation tillage has resulted in measured reductions in suspended sediment loadings ranging from 61 percent to 95 percent at six stations in Rock Creek (1981-1988). Similarly, 8 of 10 sub-basins showed reductions in suspended sediment loadings over the same time period. The sediment removal efficiencies of selected practices used in the project are given in Table 2-29.

In California it is expected that drip irrigation will have the greatest irrigation efficiency of those irrigation systems evaluated, whereas conventional furrow irrigation will have the lowest irrigation efficiency and greatest runoff fraction (Table 2-30). Tailwater recovery irrigation systems are expected to have the greatest percolation rate. Plot studies in California have shown that in-season irrigation efficiencies for drip irrigation and Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) are greater than those for improved furrow and conventional furrow systems (Table 2-31). LEPA is a linear move sprinkler system in which the sprinkler heads have been removed and replaced with tubes that supply water to individual furrows (Univ. Calif., 1988). Dikes are placed in the furrows to prevent water flow and reduce soil effects on infiltrated water uniformity.

Mielke et al. (1981) studied the effects of tillage practice and type of center pivot irrigation on herbicide (atrazine and alachlor) losses in runoff and sediment. Study results clearly show that, for each of three tillage practices studied, low-pressure spray nozzles result in much greater herbicide loss in runoff than either high-pressure or low-pressure impact heads.


5. Irrigation Water Management Practices

As discussed more fully at the beginning of this chapter and in Chapter 1, the following practices are described for illustrative purposes only. State programs need not require implementation of these practices. However, as a practical matter, EPA anticipates that the management measure set forth above generally will be implemented by applying one or more management practices appropriate to the source, location, and climate. The practices set forth below have been found by EPA to be representative of the types of practices that can be applied successfully apply to achieve the management measure described above.

The U.S. Soil Conservation Service practice number and definition are provided for each management practice, where available. Also included in italics are SCS statements describing the effect each practice has on water quality (USDA-SCS, 1988).


Irrigation Scheduling Practices

Proper irrigation scheduling is a key element in irrigation water management. Irrigation scheduling should be based on knowing the daily water use of the crop, the water-holding capacity of the soil, and the lower limit of soil moisture for each crop and soil, and measuring the amount of water applied to the field. Also, natural precipitation should be considered and adjustments made in the scheduled irrigations.

Practices that may be used to accomplish proper irrigation scheduling are:


  • a. Irrigation water management (449): Determining and controlling the rate, amount, and timing of irrigation water in a planned and efficient manner.

Management of the irrigation system should provide the control needed to minimize losses of water, and yields of sediment and sediment attached and dissolved substances, such as plant nutrients and herbicides, from the system. Poor management may allow the loss of dissolved substances from the irrigation system to surface or ground water. Good management may reduce saline percolation from geologic origins. Returns to the surface water system would increase downstream water temperature.


The purpose is to effectively use available irrigation water supply in managing and controlling the moisture environment of crops to promote the desired crop response, to minimize soil erosion and loss of plant nutrients, to control undesirable water loss, and to protect water quality.

To achieve this purpose the irrigator must have knowledge of (1) how to determine when irrigation water should be applied, based on the rate of water used by crops and on the stages of plant growth; (2) how to measure or estimate the amount of water required for each irrigation, including the leaching needs; (3) the normal time needed for the soil to absorb the required amount of water and how to detect changes in intake rate; (4) how to adjust water stream size, application rate, or irrigation time to compensate for changes in such factors as intake rate or the amount of irrigation runoff from an area; (5) how to recognize erosion caused by irrigation; (6) how to estimate the amount of irrigation runoff from an area; and (7) how to evaluate the uniformity of water application.

Tools to assist in achieving proper irrigation scheduling:


  • b. Water-measuring device: An irrigation water meter, flume, weir, or other water-measuring device installed in a pipeline or ditch.

The measuring device must be installed between the point of diversion and water distribution system used on the field. The device should provide a means to measure the rate of flow. Total water volume used may then be calculated using rate of flow and time, or read directly, if a totalizing meter is used.

The purpose is to provide the irrigator the rate of flow and/or application of water, and the total amount of water applied to the field with each irrigation.


  • c. Soil and crop water use data: From soils information the available water-holding capacity of the soil can be determined along with the amount of water that the plant can extract from the soil before additional irrigation is needed.

Water use information for various crops can be obtained from various USDA publications.

The purpose is to allow the water user to estimate the amount of available water remaining in the root zone at any time, thereby indicating when the next irrigation should be scheduled and the amount of water needed. Methods to measure or estimate the soil moisture should be employed, especially for high-value crops or where the water-holding capacity of the soil is low.


Practices for Efficient Irrigation Water Application

Irrigation water should be applied in a manner that ensures efficient use and distribution, minimizes runoff or deep percolation, and eliminates soil erosion.

The method of irrigation employed will vary with the type of crop grown, the topography, and soils. There are several systems that, when properly designed and operated, can be used as follows:


  • d. Irrigation system, drip or trickle (441): A planned irrigation system in which all necessary facilities are installed for efficiently applying water directly to the root zone of plants by means of applicators (orifices, emitters, porous tubing, or perforated pipe) operated under low pressure (Figure 2-20). The applicators can be placed on or below the surface of the ground (Figure 2-21).

Surface water quality may not be significantly affected by transported substances because runoff is largely controlled by the system components (practices). Chemical applications may be applied through the system. Reduction of runoff will result in less sediment and chemical losses from the field during irrigation. If excessive, local, deep percolation should occur, a chemical hazard may exist to shallow ground water or to areas where geologic materials provide easy access to the aquifer.


  • e. Irrigation system, sprinkler (442): A planned irrigation system in which all necessary facilities are installed for efficiently applying water by means of perforated pipes or nozzles operated under pressure.

Proper irrigation management controls runoff and prevents downstream surface water deterioration from sediment and sediment attached substances. Over irrigation through poor management can produce impaired water quality in runoff as well as ground water through increased percolation. Chemigation with this system allows the operator the opportunity to mange nutrients, wastewater and pesticides. For example, nutrients applied in several incremental applications based on the plant needs may reduce ground water contamination considerably, compared to one application during planting. Poor management may cause pollution of surface and ground water. Pesticide drift from chemigation may also be hazardous to vegetation, animals, and surface water resources. Appropriate safety equipment, operation and maintenance of the system is needed with chemigation to prevent accidental environmental pollution or backflows to water sources.


  • f. Irrigation system, surface and subsurface (443): A planned irrigation system in which all necessary water control structures have been installed for efficient distribution of irrigation water by surface means, such as furrows, borders, contour levees, or contour ditches, or by subsurface means.

Operation and management of the irrigation system in a manner which allows little or no runoff may allow small yields of sediment or sediment-attached substances to downstream waters. Pollutants may increase if irrigation water management is not adequate. Ground water quality from mobile, dissolved chemicals may also be a hazard if irrigation water management does not prevent deep percolation. Subsurface irrigation that requires the drainage and removal of excess water from the field may discharge increased amounts of dissolved substances such as nutrients or other salts to surface water. Temperatures of downstream water courses that receive runoff waters may be increased. Temperatures of downstream waters might be decreased with subsurface systems when excess water is being pumped from the field to lower the water table. Downstream temperatures should not be affected by subsurface irrigation during summer months if lowering the water table is not required. Improved aquatic habitat may occur if runoff or seepage occurs from surface systems or from pumping to lower the water table in subsurface systems.


  • g. Irrigation field ditch (388): A permanent irrigation ditch constructed to convey water from the source of supply to a field or fields in a farm distribution system.

The standard for this practice applies to open channels and elevated ditches of 25 ft3/second or less capacity formed in and with earth materials.

Irrigation field ditches typically carry irrigation water from the source of supplying to a field or fields. Salinity changes may occur in both the soil and water. This will depend on the irrigation water quality, the level of water management, and the geologic materials of the area. The quality of ground and surface water may be altered depending on environmental conditions. Water lost from the irrigation system to downstream runoff may contain dissolved substances, sediment, and sediment-attached substances that may degrade water quality and increase water temperature. This practice may make water available for wildlife, but may not significantly increase habitat.


  • h. Irrigation land leveling (464): Reshaping the surface of land to be irrigated to planned grades.

The effects of this practice depend on the level of irrigation water management. If plant root zone soil water is properly managed, then quality decreases of surface and ground water may be avoided. Under poor management, ground and surface water quality may deteriorate. Deep percolation and recharge with poor quality water may lower aquifer quality. Land leveling may minimize erosion and when runoff occurs concurrent sediment yield reduction. Poor management may cause an increase in salinity of soil, ground and surface waters. High efficiency surface irrigation is more probable when earth moving elevations are laser controlled.


Practices for Efficient Irrigation Water Transport

Irrigation water transportation systems that move water from the source of supply to the irrigation system should be designed and managed in a manner that minimizes evaporation, seepage, and flow-through water losses from canals and ditches. Delivery and timing need to be flexible enough to meet varying plant water needs throughout the growing season.

Transporting irrigation water from the source of supply to the field irrigation system can be a significant source of water loss and cause of degradation of both surface water and ground water. Losses during transmission include seepage from canals and ditches, evaporation from canals and ditches, and flow-through water. The primary water quality concern is the development of saline seeps below the canals and ditches and the discharge of saline waters. Another water quality concern is the potential for erosion caused by the discharge of flow-through water. Practices that are used to ensure proper transportation of irrigation water from the source of supply to the field irrigation system can be found in the USDA-SCS Handbook of Practices, and include: irrigation water conveyance, ditch and canal lining (428); irrigation water conveyance, pipeline (430); and structure for water control (587).


Practices for Utilization of Runoff Water or Tailwater

The utilization of runoff water to provide additional irrigation or to reduce the amount of water diverted increases the efficiency of use of irrigation water. For surface irrigation systems that require runoff or tailwater as part of the design and operation, a tailwater management practice needs to be installed and used. The practice is described as follows:


  • i. Irrigation system, tailwater recovery (447): A facility to collect, store, and transport irrigation tailwater for reuse in the farm irrigation distribution system.

The reservoir will trap sediment and sediment attached substances from runoff waters. Sediment and chemicals will accumulate in the collection facility by entrapping which would decrease downstream yields of these substances.

Salts, soluble nutrients, and soluble pesticides will be collected with the runoff and will not be released to surface waters. Recovered irrigation water with high salt and/or metal content will ultimately have to be disposed of in an environmentally safe manner and location. Disposal of these waters should be part of the overall management plan. Although some ground water recharge may occur, little if any pollution hazard is usually expected.


Practices for Drainage Water Management

Drainage water from an irrigation system should be managed to reduce deep percolation, move tailwater to the reuse system, reduce erosion, and help control adverse impacts on surface water and groundwater. A total drainage system should be an integral part of the planning and design of an efficient irrigation system. This may not be necessary for those soils that have sufficient natural drainage abilities.

There are several practices to accomplish this:


  • j. Filter strip (393): A strip or area of vegetation for removing sediment, organic matter, and other pollutants from runoff and waste water.

Filter strips for sediment and related pollutants meeting minimum requirements may trap the coarser grained sediment. They may not filter out soluble or suspended fine-grained materials. When a storm causes runoff in excess of the design runoff, the filter may be flooded and may cause large loads of pollutants to be released to the surface water. This type of filter requires high maintenance and has a relative short service life and is effective only as long as the flow through the filter is shallow sheet flow.

Filter strips for runoff form concentrated livestock areas may trap organic material, solids, materials which become adsorbed to the vegetation or the soil within the filter. Often they will not filter out soluble materials. This type of filter is often wet and is difficult to maintain.

Filter strips for controlled overland flow treatment of liquid wastes may effectively filter out pollutants. The filter must be properly managed and maintained, including the proper resting time. Filter strips on forest land may trap coarse sediment, timbering debris, and other deleterious material being transported by runoff. This may improve the quality of surface water and has little effect on soluble material in runoff or on the quality of ground water.

All types of filters may reduce erosion on the area on which they are constructed. Filter strips trap solids from the runoff flowing in sheet flow through the filter. Coarse-grained and fibrous materials are filtered more efficiently than fine-grained and soluble substances. Filter strips work for design conditions, but when flooded or overloaded they may release a slug load of pollutants into the surface water.


  • k. Surface drainage field ditch (607): A graded ditch for collecting excess water in a field.

From erosive fields, this practice may increase the yields of sediment and sediment-attached substances to downstream water courses because of an increase in runoff. In other fields, the location of the ditches may cause a reduction in sheet and rill erosion and ephemeral gully erosion. Drainage of high salinity areas may raise salinity levels temporarily in receiving waters. Areas of soils with high salinity that are drained by the ditches may increase receiving waters. Phosphorus loads, resulting from this practice may increase eutrophication problems in ponded receiving waters. Water temperature changes will probably not be significant. Upland wildlife habitat may be improved or increased although the habitat formed by standing water and wet areas may be decreased.


  • l. Subsurface drain (606): A conduit, such as corrugated plastic tile, or pipe, installed beneath the ground surface to collect and/or convey drainage water.

Soil water outletted to surface water courses by this practice may be low in concentrations of sediment and sediment-adsorbed substances and that may improve stream water quality. Sometimes the drained soil water is high in the concentration of nitrates and other dissolved substances and drinking water standards may be exceeded. If drainage water that is high in dissolved substances is able to recharge ground water, the aquifer quality may become impaired. Stream water temperatures may be reduced by water drainage discharge. Aquatic habitat may be altered or enhanced with the increased cooler water temperatures.


  • m. Water table control (641): Water table control through proper use of subsurface drains, water control structures, and water conveyance facilities for the efficient removal of drainage water and distribution of irrigation water.

The water table control practice reduces runoff, therefore downstream sediment and sediment-attached substances yields will be reduced. When drainage is increased, the dissolved substances in the soil water will be discharged to receiving water and the quality of water reduced. Maintaining a high water table, especially during the nongrowing season, will allow denitrification to occur and reduce the nitrate content of surface and ground by as much as 75 percent. The use of this practice for salinity control can increase the dissolved substance loading of downstream waters while decreasing the salinity of the soil. Installation of this practice may create temporary erosion and sediment yield hazards but the completed practice will lower erosion and sedimentation levels. The effect of the water table control of this practice on downstream wildlife communities may vary with the purpose and management of the water in the system.


  • n. Controlled drainage (335): Control of surface and subsurface water through use of drainage facilities and water control structures.

The purpose is to conserve water and maintain optimum soil moisture to (1) store and manage infiltrated rainfall for more efficient crop production; (2) improve surface water quality by increasing infiltration, thereby reducing runoff, which may carry sediment and undesirable chemicals; (3) reduce nitrates in the drainage water by enhancing conditions for denitrification; (4) reduce subsidence and wind erosion of organic soils; (5) hold water in channels in forest areas to act as ground fire breaks; and (6) provide water for wildlife and a resting and feeding place for waterfowl.


Practices for Backflow Prevention

  • o. The American Society of Agricultural Engineers recommends, in standard EP409, safety devices to prevent backflow when injecting liquid chemicals into irrigation systems (ASAE Standards, 1989).

The process of supplying fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, nematicides, and other chemicals through irrigation systems is known as chemigation. A backflow prevention system will "prevent chemical backflow to the water source" in cases when the irrigation pump shuts down (ASAE, 1989).

Three factors an operator must take into account when selecting a backflow prevention system are the characteristics of the chemical that can backflow, the water source, and the geometry of the irrigation system. Areas of concern include whether injected material is toxic and whether there can be backpressure or backsiphonage (ASAE, 1989; USEPA, 1989b).

Several different systems used as backflow preventers are:


  1. Air gap. A physical separation in the pipeline resulting in a loss of water pressure. Effective at end of line service where reservoirs or storage tanks are desired.
  2. Check valve with vacuum relief and low pressure drain. Primarily used as an antisiphon device (Figure 2-22).
  3. Double check valve. Consists of two single check valves coupled within one body and can handle both backsiphonage and backpressure.
  4. Reduced pressure principle backflow preventer. This device can be used for both backsiphonage and backpressure. It consists of a pressure differential relief valve located between two independently acting check valves.
  5. Atmospheric vacuum breaker. Used mainly in lawn and turf irrigation systems that are connected to potable water supplies. This system cannot be installed where backpressure persists and can be used only to prevent backsiphonage.

6. Cost Information

A cost of $10 per irrigated acre is estimated to cover investments in flow meters, tensiometers, and soil moisture probes (USEPA, 1992; Evans, 1992). Information from North Carolina indicates that the cost of devices to measure soil water ranges from $3 to $4,500 (Table 2-32). Gypsum blocks and tensiometers are the two most commonly used devices.

For quarter-section center pivot systems, backflow prevention devices cost about $416 per well (Stolzenburg, 1992). This cost (1992 dollars) is for (1) an 8-inch, 2-foot-long unit with a check valve inside ($386) and (2) a one-way injection point valve ($30). Assuming that each well will provide about 800-1,000 gallons per minute, approximately 130 acres will be served by each well. The cost for backflow prevention for center pivot systems then becomes approximately $3.20 per acre. In South Dakota, the cost for an 8-inch standard check valve is about $300, while an 8-inch check valve with inspection points and vacuum release costs about $800 (Goodman, 1992). The latter are required by State law. For quarter-section center pivot systems, the cost for standard check valves ranges from about $1.88 per acre (corners irrigated, covering 160 acres) to $2.31 per acre (circular pattern, covering about 130 acres).

Tailwater can be prevented in sprinkler irrigation systems through effective irrigation scheduling, but may need to be managed in furrow systems. The reuse of tailwater downslope on adjacent fields is a low-cost alternative to tailwater recovery and upslope reuse (Boyle Engineering Corp., 1986). Tailwater recovery systems require a suitable drainage water receiving facility such as a sump or a holding pond, and a pump and pipelines to return the tailwater for reapplication (Boyle Engineering Corp., 1986). The cost to install a tailwater recovery system was about $125/acre in California (California State Water Resources Control Board, 1987) and $97.00/acre in the Long Pine Creek, Nebraska, RCWP (Hermsmeyer, 1991).

The cost to install irrigation water conservation systems (ASCS practice WC4) for the primary purpose of water conservation in the 33 States that used the practice was about $86.00 per acre served in 1991 (USDA-ASCS, 1992b). Practice WC4 increased the average irrigation system efficiency from 48 percent to 64 percent at an amortized cost of $9.47 per acre foot of water conserved. The components of practice WC4 are critical area planting, canal or lateral, structure for water control, field ditch, sediment basin, grassed waterway or outlet, land leveling, water conveyance ditch and canal lining, water conveyance pipeline, trickle (drip) system, sprinkler system, surface and subsurface system, tailwater recovery, land smoothing, pit or regulation reservoir, subsurface drainage for salinity, and toxic salt reduction. When installed for the primary purpose of water quality, the average installation cost for WC4 was about $52 per acre served. For erosion control, practice WC4 averaged approximately $57 per acre served. Specific cost data for each component of WC4 are not available.

Water management systems for pollution control, practice SP35, cost about $26 per acre served when installed for the primary purpose of water quality (USDA-ASCS, 1992b). When installed for erosion control, SP35 costs about $19 per acre served. The components of SP35 are grass and legumes in rotation, underground outlets, land smoothing, structures for water control, subsurface drains, field ditches, mains or laterals, and toxic salt reduction.

The design lifetimes for a range of salt load reduction measures are presented in Table 2-33 (USDA-ASCS, 1988).




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