All You Need To Know About Irrigation Engineering

All You Need To Know About Irrigation Engineering

All You Need To Know About Irrigation Engineering
Manoj Dahal

Irrigation engineering is the branch of civil engineering that deals with the design, development, and management of irrigation systems. It is concerned with using water resources for agricultural purposes through applying hydraulic engineering principles. Irrigation engineering aims to provide crops with an adequate and reliable water supply to optimise their growth and yield.

Irrigation engineering is critical in ensuring food security and sustainable agriculture. Irrigation systems play a vital role in increasing crop yields, improving the quality of crops, and ensuring a reliable food supply.

Irrigation also helps farmers to diversify their crops and provides them with the opportunity to cultivate crops that are not typically grown in their region. Irrigation engineering also contributes to the overall economic development of a region by increasing agricultural productivity, creating job opportunities, and increasing farmers' income.

The primary objective of irrigation engineering is to ensure the efficient and effective use of water resources for agricultural purposes. The specific objectives of irrigation engineering include the following:

  1. Providing a reliable water supply for crop growth and development.
  2. Ensuring that water is applied uniformly and efficiently to crops.
  3. Reducing water losses through evaporation, runoff, and percolation.
  4. Minimising the negative impacts of irrigation on the environment, such as waterlogging and soil salinisation.
  5. Improving the economic viability of agriculture by increasing crop yields and reducing production costs.
  6. Ensuring that irrigation systems are sustainable and can be maintained long-term.
  7. Encouraging the adoption of water conservation practices and technologies to ensure the efficient use of water resources

Types of Irrigation Systems

Surface Irrigation Systems

Surface irrigation systems involve water application to the soil surface and allow water to infiltrate the soil by gravity. Surface irrigation is one of the oldest and most widely used irrigation methods. The following are the different types of surface irrigation systems:

  1. Basin irrigation involves flooding a field with water and creating a pond or shallow pool, which allows water to infiltrate the soil. Basin irrigation suits flat and uniform fields and crops that can tolerate standing water.
  2. Border irrigation involves creating small ridges or borders around the field, flooding the borders with water, and allowing it to flow into the furrows between the ridges. Border irrigation is suitable for crops that tolerate standing water grown on relatively flat fields.
  3. Furrow irrigation involves creating furrows or shallow trenches between rows of crops and then flooding the furrows with water. Furrow irrigation is suitable for row crops and sloping fields.
  4. Flood irrigation involves flooding the entire field with water, allowing water to infiltrate the soil. Flood irrigation suits flat and uniform fields and crops that can tolerate standing water.

Subsurface Irrigation Systems

Subsurface irrigation systems involve applying water below the soil surface through drip, sprinkler or centre-pivot irrigation. Subsurface irrigation systems are more efficient than surface irrigation systems because they minimise water loss through evaporation and runoff. The following are the different types of subsurface irrigation systems:

  1. Drip irrigation involves water application to the soil through a network of pipes and emitters. Drip irrigation provides precise and controlled water delivery to individual plants, reducing water wastage and ensuring it is delivered where needed.
  2. Sprinkler irrigation involves the application of water to the soil through a network of pipes and sprinklers. Sprinkler irrigation can be used for various crops and soil types and is suitable for sloping fields.
  3. Centre pivot irrigation involves a large sprinkler system mounted on a central pivot. The sprinklers rotate around the pivot, delivering water to the soil. Centre pivot irrigation is suitable for large fields and can be automated for efficient water management.

Components of Irrigation Systems

Water Source

The water source is a critical component of an irrigation system. The source can be a river, lake, well, or other water body. The quality and availability of water from the source are important considerations when selecting an irrigation system.

Conveyance System

The conveyance system is responsible for transporting water from the source to the storage or distribution system. The conveyance system includes canals, ditches, and pipes. The type and size of the conveyance system depend on the volume of water to be transported and the distance to the storage or distribution system.

Storage System

The storage system stores water for use during periods of low availability or when irrigation is not required. The storage system can be a reservoir, pond, or tank. The storage system's size depends on the crop's water requirements and the irrigation frequency.

Distribution System

The distribution system is responsible for delivering water to the crop. The distribution system can be a network of pipes, sprinklers, or drip emitters. The type of distribution system depends on the crop, soil type, and climate.

Irrigation Scheduling System

The irrigation scheduling system determines when and how much water to apply to the crop. The irrigation schedule is based on the crop's water requirements, soil moisture, and weather conditions. The scheduling system can be automated or manual, depending on the size and complexity of the irrigation system.

Factors Affecting Irrigation


The climate is an important factor affecting irrigation. The amount and timing of rainfall, temperature, evapotranspiration rates, and wind speed all influence the water requirements of crops. In areas with low rainfall or high evapotranspiration rates, irrigation is necessary to maintain crop growth and yield.

Soil Characteristics

Soil characteristics such as texture, structure, and water-holding capacity also affect irrigation. Sandy soils have a lower water-holding capacity and require more frequent irrigation than soils with higher water-holding capacity, such as clay soils. Soil texture and structure also affect the infiltration rate and the amount of water that can be stored in the root zone.

Crop Type

Different crops have different water requirements. Some crops, such as rice, require continuous flooding, while others, such as fruit trees, require periodic irrigation. The stage of crop growth also affects water requirements, with the highest water demand occurring during the reproductive stage.


Topography affects irrigation in several ways. Sloping terrain can cause water to run off, resulting in uneven distribution and potential erosion. In such cases, terracing or contouring can slow down the flow of water and reduce erosion. Drainage systems are also important in low-lying areas to prevent waterlogging and promote root growth.

Water Quality

Water quality can affect irrigation in several ways. High salinity, alkalinity, or toxic substances in the water can harm crops and reduce yields. In such cases, water treatment or alternative water sources may be necessary. The water's pH and nutrient content also affect crop growth and yield.

Irrigation Design and Planning

Determination of Water Requirements

The first step in irrigation design and planning is determining the water requirements of the grown crop. This involves assessing the climate, soil, and crop characteristics to determine the water needed at different crop growth stages. Water requirements can be estimated using various methods, including soil moisture sensors, evapotranspiration models, and crop coefficients.

Site Evaluation

Once the water requirement has been determined, the next step is to evaluate the site where the irrigation system will be installed. The site evaluation involves assessing the topography, soil type and structure, water availability, and other factors affecting the irrigation system's design and performance. Site evaluation may also include soil tests, water quality tests, and a survey of the site's features.

System Design

The irrigation system's design can be developed based on the water requirement and site evaluation. The design includes selecting the appropriate irrigation system, sizing of pipes, pumps, and other components, and the system's layout. The design should also consider the system's energy requirements, water source, and environmental impacts. Different irrigation systems, such as surface, sprinkler, or drip irrigation, may be suitable depending on the site characteristics and crop requirements.

Irrigation Management

Operation and Maintenance of Irrigation Systems

Operation and maintenance of irrigation systems are crucial for their efficient functioning and long-term sustainability. Proper operation and maintenance practices include regular system inspection for leaks, clogs, or other malfunctions, ensuring the proper functioning of pumps and valves, and keeping the system clean and debris-free. Routine maintenance activities also include repairing or replacing damaged components, cleaning or replacing filters, and adjusting irrigation schedules to meet the changing needs of crops and the site conditions.

Irrigation Scheduling and Monitoring

Irrigation scheduling and monitoring are important aspects of irrigation management. Scheduling involves determining when and how much water to apply to the crop based on the crop's water requirements, soil moisture, and other factors. Monitoring involves measuring the soil moisture content, water levels in the storage reservoirs, and water flow rate through the system. This information is used to adjust the irrigation schedule and optimise water use.

Water Conservation Techniques

Water conservation techniques are essential for sustainable irrigation management. Some of the techniques used for water conservation include minimising evaporation and runoff by selecting appropriate irrigation methods, reducing the amount of water used by using efficient irrigation systems, improving soil moisture retention through techniques such as mulching, and using water-saving technologies such as soil moisture sensors, drip irrigation, and sprinkler systems.

Irrigation Efficiency

Irrigation efficiency refers to the crop's water ratio to the total water applied to the field. High irrigation efficiency results in the optimum use of water resources and reduces wastage. Different irrigation methods have different levels of efficiency. Surface irrigation methods have lower efficiency due to evaporation and runoff, while drip irrigation and sprinkler systems have higher efficiency due to the targeted water application.

Advancements in Irrigation Engineering

Precision Irrigation

Precision irrigation uses sensors, weather stations, and soil moisture monitoring systems to apply water to crops precisely and accurately. Precision irrigation aims to apply water only where it is needed, reducing water waste and improving crop yields. This technology has revolutionised irrigation management by providing real-time data on soil moisture and crop water requirements, which can be used to adjust irrigation schedules and improve the efficiency of irrigation systems.

Smart Irrigation

Smart irrigation systems use sensors and real-time data to automate the irrigation process. These systems can adjust irrigation schedules based on weather conditions, soil moisture levels, and evapotranspiration rates. Smart irrigation systems are designed to be more efficient than traditional ones by reducing water waste and improving crop yields. These systems are also more sustainable as they require less water and energy.

Irrigation Automation

Irrigation automation refers to using sensors and control systems to automate irrigation. These systems can turn on and off irrigation systems based on real-time data, adjust water flow rates, and control valve settings. Automated irrigation systems can detect leaks and malfunctions, reducing water waste and improving system efficiency.

Remote Sensing in Irrigation

Remote sensing technology gathers information on soil moisture, crop health, and weather conditions over large areas. This technology can provide farmers and irrigation managers real-time data on crop water requirements, soil moisture levels, and weather patterns. This information can be used to adjust irrigation schedules and improve the efficiency of irrigation systems.

Challenges in Irrigation Engineering

Water Scarcity

One of the biggest challenges in irrigation engineering is the availability and access to water resources. Water scarcity is a major concern in many regions of the world. Competition for water resources can lead to conflicts between different water users, including agricultural, industrial, and domestic users. In irrigation engineering, the challenge is designing and managing irrigation systems that efficiently use water and adapt to changing water availability and demands.

Environmental Impacts

Irrigation can have significant environmental impacts, including soil erosion, water pollution, and biodiversity loss. Improper irrigation design and management can also lead to waterlogging, salinisation, and desertification. The challenge for irrigation engineers is to design and manage irrigation systems that minimise these negative environmental impacts and promote sustainable land use practices.

Climate Change

Climate change is expected to significantly impact water resources and agriculture, leading to changes in precipitation patterns, increased temperatures, and more frequent extreme weather events. These changes will require irrigation engineers to develop and implement new strategies for managing water resources and designing irrigation systems that adapt to changing climatic conditions.

Economic Factors

The cost of developing and maintaining irrigation systems can be a significant barrier to their adoption, particularly in developing countries. In addition, the profitability of agriculture can be affected by factors such as market demand, trade policies, and access to credit. The challenge for irrigation engineers is to design and manage irrigation systems that are economically viable and can provide long-term benefits to farmers and local communities.

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