AlterIrrigation2012 - Desert Restoration Hub

Alternative (more efficient)
Irrigation Systems
David A. Bainbridge
Author: 2007. A Guide to Desert and Dryland
Restoration. Island Press.
Retired, former Associate Professor, Alliant
International University, San Diego, California
Water shortage!
• The problem of water shortage continues to
grow - both locally and globally
• At the same time the need for restoration of
dry lands and increasing food production from
deserts and dry lands are both rising
• This led to my twenty five year adventure with
alternative irrigation systems
now affects 1 billion people
Northern Mexico
The First Step
• This is not a “new” problem so I started
with an extensive literature search
• I also interviewed scientists and farmers
who visited the Dry Lands Research
Institute (at UC Riverside)
• Several interesting candidates
emerged, and have proved useful!
Buried Clay Pot Irrigation
• One of the most studied, and very
effective systems uses a buried clay pot
full of water to irrigate plants
• The capillary flow of water is regulated
by demand - so little water is wasted
• Highly recommended! For restoration,
gardens, landscaping, farming
Simple and Effective
• Clay pots worked
well even in the
lowest, hottest
desert in California
• Excellent for
seedlings or for
starting seeds or
Getting Started
• Regular red clay
pots work well
• Seal the bottom hole
with a cork or
• Use a lid with a
small hole drilled in
it to capture
Place the pot
• Set the pot in the
soil so the rim is
above ground
• You don’t want the
dirt and leaves to
wash in
• Firm the soil around
the pot -- and plant
A Long Tradition
• The agricultural text Fan Sheng-chih Shu,
describes the use of buried clay pot irrigation
in China more than 2,000 years ago
• Excerpts from this book provided my
inspiration--writing does speak across time
• I later found work and use of clay pots in Iran,
Pakistan, Mexico and other countries
Fewer Weeds
• Another great advantage of buried clay pots
(and other deep watering systems) is reduced
weed growth
• In one study weeds were cut 87%
• This means less work - and less wasted
• The second biggest problem for small
farmers after water shortage is time shortage
Buried clay pots
• Buried clay pots have also proved to be
very effective when saline water must
be used - or when salt is a
problem in the soil
• The steady moisture reduces salt
buildup in the root zone and damage
Starting Cuttings
• Double clay pots are
ideal for starting
• The inner pot is sealed
and filled with water
• The moisture is
maintained in the soil at
an ideal level
• BCP are good for
starting cuttings in the
field as well
Deep Pipe Irrigation
• This method of irrigation was suggested by a
traditional system from India - where water
was placed in the hollow stem of a dead plant
to water deeper in the soil
• Subsequent research found one study and
one report from India
• This has been our best system for restoration
work -- cheap, durable and very effective
Deep pipe installation
• The pipe may be
about 14-16” long,
2” diameter, set
• Small holes are
drilled on the plant
side below soil level
• A screen lid is glued
on to protect wildlife
Deep pipe drip
• Where a drip system
can be set up it can
also be used in a
deep pipe
• Smaller pipes can
be used with the
emitter inserted in
the pipe
No waste
• Little water evaporates because the
water is placed in the deep soil
• Little time is wasted because it is fast
and easy to fill the pipe
• It works very well on slopes
• It develops large root systems
Excellent Results
• Survival is excellent
with very little water
• Mesquite trees were
started with a total
of only 5 gallons of
water in the first
year - not five
gallons a week or
two gallons
an hour
Wick Irrigation
• Wick systems were also described in
reports from India
• Wicks were traditionally combined with
clay pots to water orchard trees
• After trying several types of wicks I think
this may be the next great thing!
Wick options
• Wicks can be used in a capillary form,
where water is wicked from a reservoir
to the plant through a raised section by
capillary forces (as little as 20 ml day)
• Or in a gravity feed form, with the
reservoir above the wick (a hose clamp
can be used to adjust the flow rate)
Wick options
• Wick with clay pot
• With a riser tube in
bottom hole
• Capillary wick from
buried bottle in
plastic tube
More wick options
• Half inch diameter
gravity wick with a
larger reservoir
• Installed with
treeshelter and wire
cage for jack rabbit
• Seedlings topped
treeshelter at 3
Wick Material
• The best material has been old, used 812 mm solid braid nylon rope (5/16”-1/2”)
• Fresh nylon rope can be used if it is
washed with detergent to remove oils but it is not as good as old rope
• Fabric ca also be used
• Cotton was used in India, but tended to
mold in my early tests
Porous Hose
• This system uses a vertically placed
leaky or porous hose section
• It performs a bit like a clay pot--only it is
cheaper and smaller
• These hoses are made of recycled
rubber and hold up well
• It has to be high flow rate hose to work
at low pressure head
Porous hose
• This can be fed by a
• Or attached to a drip
type line
• Both have worked
reasonably well
• A fast rate hose is
needed to work at
low pressure
Tree shelter
• Watering into a tree
shelter is also
• This can be done by
hand or using a drip
type system
Perforated Pipe
• Sub-irrigation can
also be done with
slotted drain pipe
• The pipe is laid
deep in the soil and
filled with water
using a water truck
• Best for lines of
plants - good for
Porous Capsules
• A modern adaptation of
buried clay pot irrigation
was developed in Brazil
• The clay is formed into
a capsule that can be
placed on a water line
• These worked well for
me -- but were more
costly to make
• PC made by gluing
two red clay pots
• Clay pots made by a
staffer using a beer
bottle mold
Porous capsules
• These are easy to
plumb in a system
• Or they can be gravity
fed from a bottle or tank
• These are very efficient
• A range of smaller
porous irrigation
systems are sold for
container plants
• A microcatchment is a specially contoured
area with slopes and berms designed to
increase rain runoff and concentrate it in
small dams or depressions
• Rain falling on the catchment area drains into
a planting basin where it infiltrates and is
effectively "stored" in the soil profile
• Used for millennia - very effective if it rains!
A Microcatchment
• Microcatchments
can be shaped to
look more natural,
but do entail
disturbing the soil
• More appropriate in
agriculture - but has
worked well on
restoration projects
Problems with drip
• Drip irrigation has been very effective in
agriculture and is often the best choice, but
we can do better for the hundreds of millions
of farmers who cannot afford drip
• Water for drip must be filtered and
pressurized and maintenance is critical
• It is also not as efficient as these alternatives
- some may be 2-4 times more water efficient
than surface drip
Drip problems
• Drip is not well suited
for remote sites - due to
animal damage
• Even when open water
is nearby animals will
chew on drip tubing
• Insect, root and salt
clogging and other
problems also occur
The best system?
• It depends
• All have been very good
• Deep pipes have been most commonly
• Perforated pipe is now used in some
situations (linear plantings Mojave)
• My current research is focusing on
wicks - low cost, durable
Container type
• The container type and
planting system make a
difference in irrigation
• Tall pot, half high, deep
pot, plant band or
• Watering interval
• Goals for survival and
How efficient?
• My goal has been to irrigate plants with
minimal water use -- perhaps a quart a
month for species like mesquite
• This has been possible if they are also
planted with a tree shelter to reduce
temperatures and exposure to the wind
• They don’t grow much - but they survive
until it rains
Restoration in remote places
• My goal has been to
reduce water use
during establishment
to a low enough level
to be done by hand
carrying water
• Or using a mule,
many miles from the
water source
It is possible
Planted 1995, photo 2008
More information
• A wide range of papers and web sites
• Try
• And for more information on desert
June 2007
You Can Help
• Try these systems -- figure out how to make
them better, cheaper and more efficient
• Find out what works and what doesn’t and let
me know [email protected]
• Send money to support research
• Buy my book on desert and dryland
restoration and send it to a library or
university in Africa, Mexico, Asia
• To friends, students (AIU, SDSU, UCR, WCIU), staff, funders,
vendors and family who have helped along the way
• To the traditional farmers who figured most of this out -- and
shared information and ideas freely
• Special thanks to Steve Mitchell, Wes Jarrell, Ross Virginia,
Mike Allen and John Rieger who made this possible
• And to the many scientists and extension specialists who have
provided insight and descriptions of traditional irrigation systems
Related flashcards


13 cards


15 cards


34 cards


58 cards


16 cards

Create Flashcards