Farming and Animal Husbandry

What is an irrigation system?
Answered by Animal Planet
  • Animal Planet

    Animal Planet

  1. Let's start with the traditional Webster's definition of "irrigate": to supply (as land or crops) by artificial means. An irrigation system, then, does exactly that. It brings water to places where water isn't or  is not in great enough abundance. The goal is to supply just the right amount of water without overdoing it and damaging the soil or vegetation. Everything from large-scale agriculture to the neighborhood front lawn can use some type of irrigation strategy.

    There are several general types of irrigation system. One type of system is called drip irrigation. It functions much as its name implies. It directly targets a plant's roots for water delivery, doing so very slowly. When you compare it to something like overhead sprinklers, drip irrigation fares well because it uses less water, decreases weed growth and evaporation and cuts back on the potential for soil erosion. It also reduces the risk of fertilizer or pesticide runoff. Good drip system designs pay close attention to soil and crop type as well as the appropriate level of water pressure to employ [source: Washington State University].

    Meanwhile, when an area uses surface irrigation, water is spread out evenly in a field using the gravity flow of water onto the soil. The rate of the flow of water onto the field has to be carefully monitored to minimize the chances of erosion, and the amount of water used has to account for the type of soil being irrigated [source: Washington State University]. Think of a large flood plain and you get the idea.

    And then, of course, there is the slight variation on something most people have in their garage and use to water their lawns: a sprinkler. In a sprinkler system, water is piped in to irrigate the crops or soil. The pipes used are typically perforated to spread water evenly over the area or they have a series of nozzles set to a specified amount of pressure that will form a wide enough spray pattern for coverage to be complete. Other irrigation system types include sub-irrigation, where water is supplied from beneath the soil via pipes or by raising a nearby water table, and flood irrigation, which covers the entire surface target area such that it forms a pond [source: U.S. Geological Survey].

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