By Kristyn Mayernik, PE, CFM and Bill Wiegand, PE

Losses of water in irrigation systems can be caused by many different situations, such as rainstorms or power outages. Conversions from flood irrigation to sprinklers or pivots can also change canal water levels due to the modification of system operations. These canal water level variations can result in additional water loss to wasteways. Depending on water rights and availability during a particular season, this can create several water shortage problems and lead to one of the most commonly asked questions: What is the best way to mitigate water losses? Fortunately, there are a couple of solutions that can provide multiple benefits.

Common Irrigation Problems

An irrigation system can comprise a combination of open channel and closed conduit networks that supply water to farmers at distribution points. It is impossible to coordinate supply and demand in a hydraulically closed system/network with multiple and intermittent points of use. Therefore, every irrigation distribution system needs an exit, overflow, or final collection point for unused water. Your best solution to reclaim this lost water for beneficial use? An engineered wasteway and intermediate storage systems.

Two of the most common problems irrigation district operators deal with are unintended water loss down the wasteway and erosion of the wasteway. Many wasteways are routed through coulees and other natural waterways until they flow into the intended receiving body. These drainages were not necessarily “designed” to handle the amount of flow routed through them and may erode, causing downstream sedimentation problems and bank destabilization. The unintended water loss makes it difficult for irrigation systems to meet demand for water throughout the season.

Solutions with Multiple Benefits

To reduce lost flows down the wasteways, a few solutions have multiple benefits. One option is a regulating reservoir within the canal system. This solution allows operators to store and regulate a volume of water before it leaves the system.

Another option is to capture excess water by building a reservoir or holding pond within a wasteway. Once the water has been captured, it can be pumped back to a canal, conveyed to a nearby field, or piped directly to a pivot. The Pondera County Canal and Reservoir Company (PCCRC) have successfully mitigated multiple wasteway situations using small reservoirs or holding ponds. Two examples of these are the K-7 Wasteway and the E-Wasteway reservoirs.

On K-7 Wasteway, PCCRC rehabilitated a small reservoir with an obvious leak and visible sinkholes. The rehabilitation included:

  • Rebuilding the earthen berm.
  • Increasing the reservoir’s storage capacity by increasing the elevation of the earthen dam.
  • Upgrading the outlet structures to include a principal spillway, an emergency spillway, a pumped turnout, and a turnout that directly piped water to an irrigator’s pivot.