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3. Field measurements

3.1 Field topography and configuration
3.2 Determining water requirements
3.3 Infiltration
3.4 Flow measurement
3.5 Field evaluation

The evaluation of surface irrigation at the field level is an important aspect of both management and design. Field measurements are necessary to characterize the irrigation system in terms of its most important parameters, to identify problems in its function, and to develop alternative means for improving the system.

System characterization necessitates a series of basic field measurements before, during, and after the irrigation. The objectives of the evaluation will dictate whether the field measurements are comprehensive or are simplified for special purposes. In some cases, there are alternative methodologies and equipment for accomplishing the same ends. The selection provided herein is based on a limited selection found to be most useful during numerous field evaluations and, in some measure, the practicality in the international sense.

Five classes of field measurements are presented: (1) field topography and configuration; (2) water requirements; (3) infiltration; (4) flow measurement; and (5) irrigation phases.

3.1 Field topography and configuration

All field evaluations should include a relatively simple assessment of the field topography and layout. These measurements are well enough known that only their brief mention is required. There is first of all the field's primary elevations. This information requires that a surveying instrument be used to measure elevations of the principal field boundaries (including dykes if present), the elevation of the water supply inlet (an invert and likely maximum water surface elevation), and the elevations of the surface and subsurface drainage system if possible. These measurements need not be comprehensive nor as formalized as one would expect for a land levelling project.

The field topography and geometry should be measured. This requires placing a simple reference grid on the field, usually by staking, and then surveying the elevations of the field surface at the grid points to establish slope and slope variations. Usually one to three lines of stakes placed 20-30 metres apart or such that 5-10 points are measured along the expected flow line will be sufficient. For example, a border or basin would require at most three stake lines, a furrow system as little as one, depending on the uniformity of the topography. The survey should establish the distance of each grid point from the field inlet as well as the field dimensions (length of the field in the primary direction of water movement as well as field width). There are important items of information that should be available from the survey: (1) the field slope and its uniformity in the direction of flow and normal to it; (2) the slope and area of the field; and (3) a reference system in the field establishing distance and elevation changes.

It is also worthwhile at this stage of the evaluation to record the location and extent of major soil types (this may require sampling and some laboratory analyses). The cropping pattern should be determined and, if a crop is on the field at the time of the evaluation, any obvious differences in growth and vigour should be noted. Similarly, the cultivation practices should be recorded.

3.2 Determining water requirements

3.2.1 Evapotranspiration and drainage requirements
3.2.2 Soil moisture principles
3.2.3 Soil moisture measurements
3.2.4 An example problem on soil moisture

The irrigation system may not be designed to supply the total amount of moisture required for crop growth. In some cases, precipitation or upward flow from a water table may contribute substantially towards fulfilling crop water requirements. It is also unrealistic to expect that irrigation can be practiced without losses due to deep percolation, or tailwater runoff. The fraction of the water that is used should be maximized, but this fraction cannot be 100 percent without other serious problems developing such as a salt build-up in the crop root zone.

The dependency on irrigation in an area requires some analyses of the water balance. Water balance may have three perspectives. The first is the balance of agricultural demands within a watershed as depicted in Figure 15. The outcome of such an analysis establishes the safe yield of water from various sources and thereby indicates the area of a project, the priorities among projects, and the configuration of the large systemic components of the project. An evaluation at the field level presumes that this information is available, and it should be generally understood in as much as the limits of on-farm irrigation may be dictated by the magnitude and distribution of the total water supply.

Figure 15. The perspective of water balance at the river basin level (from Walker, 1978)

The second water balance perspective, illustrated in Figure 16, is the water balance within the farm or command area. An individual field is generally irrigated in concert with others in the command or farm through sharing the water delivered through a canal turnout or a well. Fields also typically share drainage channels. Water balance at the farm or command area level is established on a field's access to water, its priority, timing and duration. Again, a field evaluation presumes that these factors have been formulated and can be determined. Figure 17 illustrates the perspective of water balance at the field level.

Figure 16. A perspective of the on-farm water balance

Figure 17. The perspective of water balance at the field level

The water balance within the confines of a field is a useful concept for characterizing, evaluating or monitoring any surface irrigation system. In using this aspect of water balance, an important consideration is the time frame in which the computations are made, i.e. whether the balance will use annual data, seasonal data, or data describing a single irrigation event. If a mean annual water balance is computed, then it becomes reasonable that the change in root zone soil moisture storage could be assumed as zero. In some irrigated areas, precipitation events are so light that the net rainfall can be reasonably assumed to equal the measured precipitation. Under other circumstances, various other terms can be neglected. In fact, the time base and field conditions are often selected to eliminate as many of the parameters as possible in order to study the behaviour of single parameters.

One of the more important is crop evapotranspiration. The upward movement of groundwater to the root zone can usually be ignored if the water table is at least a metre below the root zone. Then if the soil moisture is measured before and after a period when there is no precipitation or irrigation, the depletion from the root zone is a viable estimate of crop water use.

There are two particularly important components in the field water balance which impact design and evaluation. The first is the irrigation requirement of the crop, or its evapotranspiration and leaching needs. This is a design parameter and will be briefly described here, but a detailed treatment is left to the FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper 24, Crop Water Requirements, by Doorenbos and Pruitt (FAO, 1977). The second important component deals with field evaluation and concerns the nature of moisture content changes in the soil profile.

3.2.1 Evapotranspiration and drainage requirements

Evapotranspiration, ET, is dependent upon climatic conditions, crop variety and stage of growth, soil moisture depletion, and various physical and chemical properties of the soil. A two step procedure is generally followed in estimating ET: (1) the seasonal distribution of reference crop "potential evapotranspiration", Etp, which can be computed with standard formulae; and (2) the Etp is adjusted for crop variety and stage of growth. Other factors like moisture stress can be ignored for the purposes of design computations.

There are perhaps twenty commonly used methods for calculating evapotranspiration, ranging in complexity from the Blaney-Criddle Method using primarily mean monthly temperature to more complete equations such as the Penman Method requiring radiation, temperature, wind velocity, humidity and other factors comprising the net energy balance at the crop canopy.

The actual crop water demand depends on its stage of development and variety. Generally it is estimated by multiplying Etp by a crop growth stage coefficient, kCO. Values of kCO have been published by Jensen (1973), Kincaid and Heermann (1974) and Doorenbos and Pruitt (FAO, 1977) for a wide range of crops grown worldwide.

Some irrigation water should be applied in excess of the storage capacity of the soil to leach salts from the rooting region, although this does not have to be achieved during each irrigation event. It can usually be applied on an annual basis. As a matter of practicality, the normally occurring deep percolation under most surface irrigation systems exceeds the leaching fraction necessary for salt balance, particularly for the first and second irrigations each season when deep percolation losses are typically greatest. In addition, precipitation helps leach salts throughout the year. Nevertheless some irrigated areas maintain a salt balance in the root zone with excess leaching during only years of plentiful water supplies, which may occur as infrequently as every three to eight years.

3.2.2 Soil moisture principles

Important soil characteristics in irrigated agriculture include: (1) the water-holding or storage capacity of the soil; (2) the permeability of the soil to the flow of water and air; (3) the physical features of the soil like the organic matter content, depth, texture and structure; and (4) the soil's chemical properties such as the concentration of soluble salts, nutrients and trace elements.

The total available water, TAW, for plant use in the root zone is commonly defined as the range of soil moisture held at a negative apparent pressure of 0.1 to 0.33 bar (a soil moisture level called 'field capacity') and 15 bars (called the 'permanent wilting point'). The TAW will vary from 25 cm/m for silty loams to as low as 6 cm/m for sandy soils. Some typical values of TAW, field capacity, permanent wetting point and miscellaneous features have been given in various texts. A typical summary is shown in Figure 18.

Figure 18. Relationships between soil types and total available soil moisture holding capacity, field capacity and wilting point (from Walker and Skogerboe, 1987)

Other important soil parameters include its porosity, f , its volumetric moisture content, q ; its saturation, S; its dry weight moisture fraction, W; its bulk density, g b; and its specific weight, g s. The relationships among these parameters are as follows.

The porosity, f , of the soil is the ratio of the total volume of void or pore space, Vp, to the total soil volume V:

f = Vp/V (1)

The volumetric water content, q , is the ratio of water volume in the soil, VW, to the total volume, V:

q = Vb/V (2)

The saturation, S, is the portion of the pore space filled with water:

S = VW/Vp (3)

These terms are further related as follows:

q = S * f (4)

When a sample of field soil is collected and oven-dried, the soil moisture is reported as a dry weight fraction, W:


To convert a dry weight soil moisture fraction into volumetric moisture content, the dry weight fraction is multiplied by the bulk density, g b; and divided by specific weight of water, g w which can be assumed to have a value of unity. Thus:

q = g b W/g w (6)

The g b is defined as the specific weight of the soil particles, g s, multiplied by the particle volume or one-minus the porosity:

g b = g b * (1 - f ) (7)

The volumetric moisture contents at field capacity, q fc, and permanent wilting point, q wp, then are defined as follows:

q fc = g b Wfc/g w (8)

q wp = g b Wwp/g w (9)

where Wfc and Wwp are the dry weight moisture fractions at each point.

The total available water, TAW is the difference between field capacity and wilting point moisture contents multiplied by the depth of the root zone, RD (refer to Table 1):

TAW = (q fc - q wp) RD (10)



Root Depth (metres)

































Corn (maize)










Grains and flax






Ladino clover






Milo (Sorghum)








Palm Trees


























Squash (summer)




Sudan grass










Summarized from Marr (1967) and Doorenbos and Pruitt (FAO, 1977)

The Soil Moisture Deficit, SMD, is a measure of soil moisture between field capacity and existing moisture content, q i, multiplied by the root depth:

SMD = (q fc - q i) * RD (11)

A similar term expressing the moisture that is allotted for depletion between irrigations is the 'Management Allowed Deficit', MAD. This is the value of SMD where irrigation should be scheduled and represents the depth of water the irrigation system should apply. Later this will be referred to as Zreq indicating the 'required depth' of infiltration.

3.2.3 Soil moisture measurements

The soil moisture status requires periodic measurements in the field, from which one can project when the next irrigation should occur and what depth of water should be applied. Conversely, such data can indicate how much has been applied and its uniformity over the field. As noted in the previous subsections, bulk density, field capacity and the permanent wilting point are also needed.

There are numerous techniques for evaluating soil moisture. Perhaps the most useful are gravimetric sampling, the neutron probe and the touch-and-feel method.

i. Gravimetric sampling

Gravimetric sampling involves collecting a soil sample from each 15-30 cm of the soil profile to a depth at least that of the root penetration. Typical samplers are shown in Figure 19. The soil sample of approximately 100-200 grammes is placed in an air tight container of known weight (tare) and then weighed. The sample is then placed in an oven heated to 105° C for 24 hours with the container cover removed. After drying, the soil and container are again weighed and the weight of water determined as the before and after readings. The dry weight fraction of each sample can be calculated using Eq. 5. Knowing the bulk density, one can determine moisture contents from Eq. 6 and the soil moisture depletion from Eq. 11.

Figure 19. Small equipment used for collecting soil samples from the field

a. sampling auger

b. sampling tube

ii. The neutron Probe

The neutron probe and scaler for making soil moisture measurements are illustrated in Figure 20. The neutron probe is inserted at various depths into an access tube and the count rate is read from the scaler. The manufacturers of neutron probe equipment furnish a calibration relating the count rate to volumetric soil moisture content. Field experience suggests that these calibrations are not always accurate under a broad range of conditions so it is advisable for the investigator to develop an individual calibration for each field or soil type. Most calibration curves are linear, best fit lines of gravimetric data and scaler readings but may in some cases be slightly curvilinear (van Baval et al., 1963).

Figure 20. A neutron probe and scaler for soil moisture measurements (after Walker and Skogerboe, 1987)

The volume of soil actually monitored in readings by the neutron probe depends on the moisture content of the soil, increasing as the soil moisture decreases. The accuracy of soil moisture determinations near the ground surface is affected by a loss of neutrons into the atmosphere thereby influencing measurements prior to an irrigation more than afterwards. As a consequence, soil moisture measurements with a neutron probe are usually unreliable within 10-30 cm of the ground surface.

iii. Touch-and-feel

As a means of developing a rough estimate of soil moisture, the Touch-and-feel method can be used. A handful of soil is squeezed into a ball. Then the appearance of the squeezed soil can be compared subjectively to the descriptions listed in Table 2 to arrive at the estimated depletion level. Merriam (1960) has developed a similar table which gives the moisture deficiency in depth of water per unit depth of soil. Over the years various investigators have compared actual gravimetric sample results to the Touch-and-Feel estimates, finding a great deal of error depending on the experience of the sampler.


Percent Depletion

Feel or Appearance of Soil

Loamy sands to fine sandy loams

Fine sandy loams to silt loams

Silt loams to clay loam

0 (field capacity)

no free water on ball* but wet outline on hand




makes ball but breaks easily and does not feel slick

makes tight ball, ribbons easily, slightly sticky and slick

easily ribbons slick feeling


balls with pressure but easily breaks

pliable ball, not sticky or slick, ribbons and feels damp

pliable ball, ribbons easily slightly slick


will not ball, feels dry

balls under pressure but is powdery and easily breaks

slightly balls still pliable


dry, loose, flows through fingers

powdery, dry, crumbles

hard, baked, cracked, crust

* A "Ball" is formed by squeezing a soil sample firmly in one's hand
A "Ribbon" is formed by squeezing soil between one's thumb and forefinger.

iv. Bulk density

Measurements of bulk density are commonly made by carefully collecting a soil sample of known volume and then drying the sample in an oven to determine the dry weight fraction. Then the dry weight of the soil, Wb is divided by the known sample volume, V, to determine bulk density, g b:

g b = Wb V (12)

Most methods developed for determining bulk density use a metal cylinder sampler that is driven into the soil at a desired depth in the profile. Bulk density varies considerably with depth and over an irrigated field. Thus, it is generally necessary to repeat the measurements in different places to develop reliable estimates.

v. Field capacity

The most common method of determining field capacity in the laboratory uses a pressure plate to apply a suction of -1/3 atmosphere to a saturated soil sample. When water is no longer leaving the soil sample, the soil moisture in the sample is determined gravimetrically and equated to field capacity.

A field technique for finding field capacity involves irrigating a test plot until the soil profile is saturated to a depth of about one metre. Then the plot is covered to prevent evaporation. The soil moisture is measured each 24 hours until the changes are very small, at which point the soil moisture content is the estimate of field capacity.

vi. Permanent wilting point

Generally, at the permanent wilting point the soil moisture coefficient is defined as the moisture content corresponding to a pressure of -15 atmospheres from a pressure plate test. Although actual wilting points can be somewhere between -10 and -20 atm, the soil moisture content varies little in this range. Thus, the -15 atm moisture content provides a reasonable estimate of the wilting point.

3.2.4 An example problem on soil moisture

A cylindrical soil sample 10 cm in diameter and 10 cm long has been carefully taken so that negligible compaction has occurred. It was weighed before oven drying (1284 grammes) and after (1151 g). What soil parameters can be identified?

1. Bulk Density:

g b = Wb / V (12)

= 1151 g / [(3.14 * (10 cm)2/4) * 10 cm] = 1.466 g/cm3

2. Dry Weight Moisture Fraction:


= (1284 g / 1151 g) / 1151 g = 0.116

3. Volumetric Moisture Content:

= (1.466 g / 1..0 g/cm3) * 0.116 = 0.170 (6)

4. Water Content Expressed as a Depth:

Depth of Water = q * Depth of Soil

= 0.17 cm of water per cm of soil.

Now suppose the soil sample is carefully rewetted to the saturation point, utilizing 314 9 of water to do so. What other soil properties are identified?

5. Porosity:

f = Vp / V (1)

= = 0.40

6. Initial Soil Saturation:

S = q / f = 0.170 / 0.40 = 0.425 (4)

7. Specific Weight of the Soil Particles:

g S = g b / (1 - f ) = 1.466 / 0.60 = 2.44 g/cm3 (7)

Finally, suppose the sample is allowed to drain under conditions where it does not dry due to evaporation until the water in the sample is under a negative pressure of -1/3 atm so that one can assume it is at field capacity. The water draining from the sample was collected and weighed 160 g. What other evaluations are now possible?

8. Field Capacity Volumetric Moisture Content:

q fc = g b Wfc / g w (8)

9. Soil Moisture Depletion at the Time of Sampling:

SMD = (q fc - q i)* RD = (0.196 - 0.170) RD = 0.026 RD (11)

If the root depth is 100 cm,

SMD = 2.6 cm

3.3 Infiltration

3.3.1 Infiltration functions
3.3.2 Typical infiltration relationships
3.3.3 Measuring infiltration
3.3.4 An example infiltrometer test

Infiltration is the most important process in surface irrigation. It essentially controls the amount of water entering the soil reservoir, as well as the advance and recession of the overland flow.

Typical curves of infiltration rate, I, and cumulative infiltration, Z, are shown in Figure 21. Irrigation of initially dry soil exhibits an infiltration rate with a high initial value which decreases with time until it becomes fairly steady, which is termed the 'basic infiltration rate'. Infiltration is a complex process that depends upon physical and hydraulic properties of the soil moisture content, previous wetting history, structural changes in the layers and air entrapment.

Figure 21. Typical infiltration rate and cumulative infiltration function

In surface irrigation, infiltration changes dramatically throughout the irrigation season. The water movements alter the surface structure and geometry which in turn affect infiltration rates. The term 'intake' is often used interchangeably with 'infiltration', particularly where the geometry of the field influences the infiltration process.

3.3.1 Infiltration functions

Both the procedures for interpreting field data and those covering surface irrigation design require that infiltration be described mathematically. There are a number of mathematical equations to choose from, probably none as versatile as the two so-called Kostiakov-Lewis relationships.

The simplest approximation of cumulative infiltration is written:

Z = k ra (13)

in which,

Z = cumulative infiltration in units of volume per unit length per unit width;
r = intake opportunity time; and
k and a = empirical constants.

Equation 13 is simple, easy to define, and widely used. Its major disadvantage is its inadequacy in describing infiltration over long time periods. The infiltration rate based on Eq. 13 is:

I = a k ra-1 (14)

Since a is always less than unity, I approaches zero at infinite time. This is a condition not typically encountered in the field. Some soils do, however, have extremely small infiltration rates after a period of time and Eqs. 13 and 14 can be used effectively.

A more general infiltration function is the extended form of Eq. 13:

Z = k ra + fo r (15)

in which fo is the long term steady, or 'basic' infiltration rate in units of volume per unit length per unit time and width. Equation 15 easily reduces to Eq. 13 if the soil intake rate at long times approaches a zero value or if the irrigation event is short compared to the time required for the infiltration to reach a steady rate. Equation 15 gives a better long term approximation on many soils. One case in particular where Equation 15 has been shown superior to Eq. 13 is when estimates of field runoff are being made.

The infiltration rate using Eq. 15 is:

I = a k ra-1 + fo (16)

3.3.2 Typical infiltration relationships

The Soil Conservation Service of the US Department of Agriculture developed a series of 'intake families' to assist field technicians and engineers. The curves were based on field measurements made over a period of years at numerous locations. They are given in the SCS National Engineering Handbook, Chapters 4 and 5 dealing with border and furrow irrigation. To be consistent with the analysis contained in this guide, a number of modifications were made to the SCS intake family concept. First, the curves were redefined in the format of Eq. 15 by defining a basic intake rate, fo, for each family, and then recomputing the values of a and k. Figure 22 shows the intake curves which result (Gharbi, 1984). Table 3 gives the k, a, and fo coefficients for each intake curve along with the typical soil type. The units employed are m3/m of length per 'characteristic' width of the field. For borders and basins, the 'characteristic' width is l metre. For furrows it is the wetted perimeter of the furrow cross-sections. Thus, to use the functions for furrow irrigation, it is necessary to estimate the wetted perimeter for the inlet discharge, divide this value by the furrow to furrow spacing, and then adjust the k and fo values by multiplying each by the resulting perimeter to spacing ratio. The k and fo values should not be reduced below 50 percent as would be the case for widely spaced furrows.

Figure 22. Kostiakov-Lewis intake relationships based on the US Dept. of Agriculture's intake series


curve no.

k m/mina


fo m/min

ave. 6 hr intake rate

soil type






















clay loam


























silty loam


























sandy loam

















The segregation of the intake families by soil type is qualitative, but it serves the field technician or irrigation engineer during preliminary design or evaluation work. The relationships given in Figure 22 and Table 3 are not intended as substitutes for field measurements when they can be made. These measurements are among the most important tasks that should be undertaken as part of surface irrigation work.

3.3.3 Measuring infiltration

Infiltration is one of the most difficult parameters to define accurately. The importance of infiltration combined with the difficulties in obtaining reliable data suggests that the field technician should expect to spend considerable time evaluating infiltration. The irrigation engineer should ensure that infiltration has been adequately defined.

Four commonly employed techniques for measuring infiltration are noted here. These are (1) cylinder infiltrometers; (2) ponding; (3) blocked recirculating infiltrometers; and (4) a deduction of infiltration from evaluation of the advance phase and the tailwater hydrograph.

i. Cylinder infiltrometers

Haise et al. (1956) presents one of the most complete instructions on the use of cylinder infiltrometers. A metal cylinder (Figure 23) with a diameter of 30 cm or more and a height of about 40 cm is driven into the soil, using a driving plate set on top of the infiltrometer and a heavy hammer.

Figure 23. A schematic of a ring infiltrometer and driving plate (after Haise et al., 1956)

The procedure for installing the cylinder infiltrometers is to begin by examining and selecting possible sites carefully for signs of unusual surface disturbance, animal burrows, stones that might damage the cylinder, etc. Areas that may have been affected by unusual animal or machinery traffic should be avoided. The individual cylinders used for a single test should be set within a 0.2 ha area so that they can conveniently be run simultaneously. Then the cylinder is set in place and pressed firmly into the soil, after which the driving plate is placed over the cylinder and tampered with the driving hammer until the cylinder is driven to a depth of about 15 cm. The cylinder should be driven so that the driving plate is maintained in a level plane which will require that it be checked frequently to keep it properly oriented.

It is generally suggested that a buffer ring around the infiltrometer be installed so that water infiltrating from the infiltrometer will percolate vertically and thereby preserve the integrity of the measurement. There have been, however, a large number of comparisons between buffered and non-buffered readings and generally one concludes that the spatial variability in the field is so much larger than the effect of buffering that it is not worthwhile to add the substantial effort of installing and operating the buffer. In addition, most comparisons cannot detect the effect of the buffer. Given the accuracy of the method in depicting representative infiltration, any error caused by omitting the buffer is insignificant. Thus, the buffered cylinder infiltrometer testing is not recommended in this guide.

After the infiltrometer has been installed, the test is conducted in the following manner. The volume of the cylinder above the soil is carefully measured (diameter, depth, etc.). A gauge of almost any type is fixed to the inner wall so that the water level changes that occur can be measured. A pre-measured volume, about 80-90 percent of the infiltrometer capacity of water similar to the irrigation water, is added quickly to the infiltrometer. When the water surface is quieted, an initial reading should be taken. The infiltration that occurs during the period between the start of the test and this first measurement is the difference between the computed initial level and the first actual reading:


Additional measurements should be recorded at periodic intervals, 5 to 10 minutes at the start of the tests, expanding to 30 to 60 minute intervals after 3 or 4 readings, but the observation frequencies should be adjusted to infiltration rates (see Figure 24 for a convenient recording form). Measurements should be continued until the intake rates are constant over a 1 to 2 hour period.

Figure 24. Data recording form for ring infiltrometer tests (after Haise et al., 1956)

When the water level has dropped about one-half of the depth of the cylinder, water should be added to return the surface to its approximate initial elevation. The depth should be maintained in the cylinder between 6 and 10 cm throughout the test. When water is added, it is necessary to record the level before and after filling. The interval between these two readings should be as short as possible to avoid errors due to infiltration during the refilling period.

Where the infiltration rate indicated by a single cylinder is unusually high, there is a possibility that either the cylinder has been improperly installed or it has been installed over a crack or root tube in the soil. These possibilities should be checked at the conclusion of a test.

Analysis of the data is usually made by plotting the data on logarithmic paper (cumulative depth, Z, on the vertical axis, cumulative time, t, on the horizontal axis). If the test is run long enough to establish a steady infiltration rate, as it should be approximately, this plot will not be linear. To evaluate the infiltration function, select readings near the later part of the test and take the slope as the basic intake rate, fo. Then use the slope of the first few data points on the logarithmic paper to define the slope, a. The intercept of the horizontal axis at 1.0 is the k value. This procedure assumes that at short times the contribution to cumulative infiltration from the steady state, fo term in Eq. 15 is negligible. These assumptions are better for the heavy soils than for the light soils.

ii. Ponding methods

Ponds can be created using bunds or dykes around an area on the ground surface and operated in the same manner and by using the same procedures discussed above for cylinders.

The ponding; method can be used in small basins and other larger ground surface areas to evaluate the infiltration rates of a larger fraction of the field. The disadvantage of this technique is that edge effects can be significant.

This problem can be overcome by giving special care to the sealing of the pond perimeter with compacted clay or installing a plastic barrier. The operational and data gathering procedures, including the forms for recording data, are the same as for cylinder infiltrometers.

The application of the ponding; technique to furrows requires a slightly different infiltrometer configuration. The total infiltration in a furrow consists of water moving laterally through the furrow sides as well as vertically downward. Bondurant (1957) developed a 'blocked' furrow infiltrometer which recognizes this special feature of furrows.

Two sharp edged plates are driven into both ends of a furrow section to isolate a short length. The furrow geometry is then determined (as will be discussed later in this section) so the depth of water can be determined at time zero. Again, a known volume of water is added to the test section and readings begin. Since the furrow cross-sectional area declines with depth, it is best to maintain a fixed water level and record the water necessary to do so as shown in Figure 25. For the data analyses, the reservoir readings need to be adjusted for the difference in surface area between the furrow section and the reservoir, i.e. the reservoir readings of cumulative infiltration need to be multiplied by the ratio of the furrow surface area to the reservoir cross-sectional area. The remainder of the data analysis is the same.

Figure 25. Blocked furrow infiltrometer (after Walker and Skogerboe, 1987)

The issue of using buffer furrows must be considered. Where buffering is not considered important in cylinder or pond infiltration measurements, it can be important in furrow cases. Judgement must be exercised on this point. For silt and clay soils, the basic intake rate will generally be reached before the wetting fronts of adjacent furrows meet in the soil between furrows and the buffering is probably not necessary. In sandy soils, this may not be the case so the basic intake rate may be influenced by the soil moisture distribution after the wetting fronts meet. Thus, the buffering would be necessary to determine accurate readings.

iii. Recycling infiltrometers

Another innovation for evaluating infiltration, primarily in furrows is the recycling infiltrometer. The advantage of this technique is that both the geometric and hydraulic conditions encountered during irrigation are simulated during the test. This provides a better approximation of actual field situations than the static methods described above.

The dynamic changes in soil-water interface must be realistically simulated. The movement of suspended particles develops a different surface condition than under the static water surface. The static case tends to form a more impermeable soil layer than would occur under usual conditions of overland flow.

The recycling infiltrometer for furrows is shown in Figure 26. A sump is installed at each end of a furrow section 5 to 6 metres in length. The sumps should be carefully buried in the ground so that the sump inverts correspond with the furrow bed elevation. Water is pumped from the water supply reservoir via a hose into the furrow inflow sump. It then advances across the furrow test section and is collected in the tailwater sump. Another pump then moves the water back into the water supply reservoir. The discharge in the system can be regulated by various valves to maintain a constant water level in the tailwater sump.

Figure 26. Recycling furrow infiltrometer (after Malano, 1982)

a. recycling furrow test section

b. supply reservoir

c. tailwater sump and pumpback system

d. recording pressure sensor on supply reservoir

As with the blocked furrow technique, the furrow cross-section must be measured so that the relationship of the surface area to that of the reservoir is known. Thus, the cumulative infiltration function is developed in the same way it is for cylinder and pond measurements, i.e. the cumulative infiltration is the reservoir readings corrected by the ratio of surface areas in the furrow and the reservoir.

The time required to complete the advance phase can be minimized by increasing the furrow inflow discharge rate for a few minutes. The decline in the reservoir volume is a direct reading of the cumulative infiltration into the furrow.

3.3.4 An example infiltrometer test

Table 4 gives one set of cylinder infiltrometer data taken from a field study. A plot of cumulative depth versus cumulative time is given in Figure 27.

Figure 27. Plot of cumulative time and infiltration for the example problem

From the last four readings, a linear slope of the plot is calculated as follows:
































Time Readings

Gauge Readings





















































































One can see that the linear slope is changing with time even after more than 24 hours and thus the contribution to Z from the nonlinear portion is still evident. Nevertheless, these are the data available and fo can be selected as 0.000025 m/min or .000025 m3/min per unit width per unit length. This value can be expected to be slightly higher than in reality due to the problem noted above, but the error is not large.

Now the non-linear term in Eq. 15 can be determined by examining the first points of the data. Since fo is now estimated, an adjustment can be made as follows:



Z-fo r

























A regression can be run through the Z-fo r versus t data to arrive at a and k values. k is read directly from the table as 3.975 mm/mma or 0.003975 m3/mina/unit width/unit length. The value of a is found by fitting the end points:

log(9.50) = a log (20)
log(3.975) = a log (1)

and by simultaneous solution:


Z = 0.003975 r .291 + 0.000025 r

3.4 Flow measurement

3.4.1 Cutthroat flumes
3.4.2 Example of cutthroat flume calibration
3.4.3 Rectangular thin-plate weirs
3.4.4 Example of rectangular sharp crested weir analysis
3.4.5 V-notch weirs

There are many useful flow measuring devices available for measuring water as part of surface irrigation evaluation and continued monitoring during the operation phases of the system. For on-farm monitoring and evaluation flumes and weirs are usually the most helpful. Flumes include the Parshall flume, the H-flume, the cutthroat flume, the V-notch flume and the trapezoidal flume. Weirs might include rectangular, triangular and Cipolletti sharp-crested weirs and various broad-crested weirs. It would be beyond the space available in this guide to describe each of these in sufficient detail to be useful to those working in the field. Most have ratings for a specific size and geometry which are supplied by manufacturers. The reader is referred to several references in the bibliography at the end of this guide for such information. However, three of the devices noted above are very easily fabricated in the field, have general ratings and are highly portable. These are: (1) the cutthroat flume; (2) the rectangular sharp-crested weir; and (3) the triangular, or V-notch sharp-crested weir. A fourth device is a recently developed broad-crested weir which enjoys simplicity of construction and portability, but which requires a computer generated rating unless a standard size is selected. The reader is recommended to Bos et al. (1985) for a full explanation of this flow measuring structure.

3.4.1 Cutthroat flumes

The cutthroat flume shown in Figure 28 was developed by Skogerboe et al. (1967), with subsequent extensions in the ratings by Bennett (1972) and others. Because the cutthroat flume has the same geometric shape for all sizes, the ratings of all flumes can be interpolated within a degree of accuracy suitable for field use.

Figure 28. The cutthroat flume

The cutthroat flume with its level floor and simple inlet and exit is easy to construct and install in almost any field situation (see Figure 29 for the the flume's dimensions). Fabrication errors are not serious as the ratings are easily adjusted.

Figure 29. Layout and geometry of the cutthroat flume

The basic discharge equation for cutthroat flumes is:



Q = the discharge in cubic feet per second (1 cfs =.0283 cubic metres/sec);
hu = the upstream gauge reading in feet (1 foot = 0.3048 metres);
Cf = the 'free flow' coefficient; and
bf = the 'free flow' exponent.

The value of bf can be read directly from Figure 30. The value of the free flow coefficient Cf, is a function of the flume's length and throat width:

Cf = KfW1.025 (19)


W = the throat width in feet; and
Kf = the flume 'length' coefficient (Figure 30).

Figure 30. The cutthroat flume rating curves (after Walker and Skogerboe, 1987)

For accurate discharge measurements, the recommended ratio of flow depth to flume length (hu/L) should be less than or equal to 0.33. As the hu/L ratio increases inaccuracies increase because of higher approach velocities and more turbulent water surface profiles at the flume gauge.

The cutthroat flume was designed to be a critical depth flume in which the flow is sufficiently restricted to cause a supercritical flow velocity to occur near the throat section. As with most flow measuring devices occasions arise when the downstream depth 'submerges' the throat so that the velocity remains in the subcritical regime. The point where this occurs is the 'transition' submergence, St, or the ratio of upstream to downstream depths (hu/hd). The St values for the cutthroat flume are also plotted in Figure 30. Under submerged conditions, Eq. 18 is modified to:



S = the 'submergence', (hu/hd);
Cs = the 'submerged flow' coefficient; and
ns = the 'submerged flow' exponent.

These parameters are also dependent on the flume length and/or width and, therefore, can be obtained for any flume dimension by reading the value from Figure 30. The submerged flow coefficient, Ks, is also plotted in Figure 30. This allows computation of the submerged

Cs = KsW1.025 (21)

If the cutthroat flume is found to be operating in the submerged regime by computing a submergence greater than St, it should be reinstalled in the channel. This involves raising the flume until a free flow regime exists. It may be necessary to reduce the throat width in this process. However, if it must operate in the submerged flow regime, Eq. 20 yields accurate readings. When the submergence approaches 90 percent, it is difficult to make sufficiently accurate gauge readings in the field.

3.4.2 Example of cutthroat flume calibration

A basin evaluation is to be conducted with an estimated flow of .25 m3/sec. A cutthroat flume is needed in the watercourse upstream of the basin to record the inflow. With this flow in the watercourse, there is only 13.5 cm of channel freeboard available with which the flume can operate. At this flow, the downstream depth below the flume would remain at 31.5 cm. The watercourse's constructed depth is 45 cm. How would the flume be selected and installed?

The first step in the solution of this problem is to observe the potential submergence condition. If a flume were installed, the maximum upstream depth at the gauge would be limited to the constructed depth of the channel (45 cm). In other words, the flume could only back water up in front of it to a depth of 13.5 cm in order to generate the head necessary to pass the flow. This would assume the flume floor was installed at the same level as the channel bottom. The submergence in the flume would then be 70 percent, found by dividing the downstream depth given as 31.5 cm by the maximum upstream depth 45 cm. A quick look at Figure 30 shows that only cutthroat flumes with lengths greater than about 4.4 feet (1.34 metres) would work, but these would be heavy and cumbersome for this field study so an examination of the alternatives is necessary. Note, any smaller flume will have to be raised above the channel bottom.

Suppose for convenience, a 1-metre long flume is desired. From Figure 30, the following parameters would be selected: St = 66.2 %, nf = 1.785 and Kf = 4.27. Assume the floor will be elevated above the channel by d cm such that:


d =5.29 cm, say 6 cm

In other words, the eventual submergence in the flume will be 66 % and it will operate in the free flow range. From Eq. 18, Cf can be found as:

Then from Eq. 19,

W = (Cf/Kf)1.0/1.025 = (5.689/4.27)0.9756 = 1.323 feet = 40.33 cm, say 41 cm

Now running through the calculations again shows that using a 1-metre long flume with a throat of 41 cm and elevated 6 cm up off the bottom will pass 0.25 m3/sec at a total upstream depth of 44.6 cm and with a submergence of 66 percent or just in the free flow range.

3.4.3 Rectangular thin-plate weirs

Weir structures are commonly used in irrigation systems near turnouts from the water delivery network to measure flows. A disadvantage of using weirs for flow measurements is that to ensure a free flow operation, the water upstream must be 'backed up' or its level increased substantially. This so-called 'head' is greater for weirs than for flumes. In addition, sediment and debris are often trapped by the weir. However, weir structures tend to provide more accurate discharge ratings than most other devices.

There are some excellent references on weirs, such as USBR (1967), Bos (1976) and Ackers et al. (1978). Today's free flow ratings for rectangular sharp crested weirs are based on extensive laboratory studies by Kindsvater and Carter (1957). A definition sketch of a standard rectangular weir is shown in Figure 31. The free flow discharge equation is:

Q = 2.9524 CeBehe1.5 (22)


Q = the flow in m3/sec;
Ce = an 'effective free flow' discharge coefficient;
be = the 'effective width' of the constriction in m; and
he = the 'effective head' in m.

Figure 31. Definition sketch of the rectangular sharp crested weir (after Bos, 1976)

The coefficient, Ce, is plotted in Figure 32 as a function of b/B and hu/p, which are shown schematically in Figure 31. The units are again in metres.

Figure 32. Definition of the Ce coefficient for rectangular thin-plate weirs (Kindsvater and Carter, 1957)

The effective constriction width, be, is:

be = b + Kb (23)

where Kb is plotted against the constriction ration b/B, in Figure 33. The effective head, he, is given simply:

he = hu + 0.0001 (24)

Figure 33. Constriction width correction, Kb, for rectangular thin-plate weirs (Kindsvater and Carter, 1957)

3.4.4 Example of rectangular sharp crested weir analysis

In the example of Subsection 3.4.3, would it be feasible to use a rectangular weir, and if so what would its dimensions be? Assume the watercourse is 1.5 m wide.

According to Figure 31, the weir crest must be at least 5 cm above the downstream water level. This means the head upstream, hu, can be as much as 45 - (31.5) = 8.5 cm. The value of b/B could be as great as 1.0 in which case Figure 33 shows Kb to be -0.0009, or from Eq. 23, be = 1.4991 m. If hu was 8.5 cm, he from Eq. 24 would equal .0851 m, hu/p would be .085/(31.5 + 5.0) = .0023, and from Figure 32, Ce would be 0.62. From Eq. 22:

Q = 2.9524(.62)(1.499)(.0851)1.5 = 0.068 m3/sec

Thus, the weir cannot pass the necessary flow at the allowable depth. In fact, one can turn the procedure around and discover that the weir must have an hu of more than 20 cm to pass the necessary flow.

3.4.5 V-notch weirs

Perhaps with other things being equal, the most accurate measuring device is the V-notch weir (Figure 34). Shen (1960) presented the generalized discharge equation for V-notch weirs as (the units are the same as for Eq. 22)

Q = 2.3691 Ce tan(q /2) hu2.5 (25)


q = the central angle of the notch in degrees.

The parameter Kh can be obtained from Figure 35 and Ce from Figure 36. Both Kh and Ce depend on the notch angle so long as hu/p < .4 and p/B < .2.

Figure 34. The V-notch weir (from Bos, 1976)

Figure 35. Head correction factor, Kh, for V-notch weirs (Shen, 1960)

Figure 36. Discharge correction factor, Ce for V-notch weirs (Shen, 1960)

3.5 Field evaluation

3.5.1 Advance phase
3.5.2 Ponding phase or wetting
3.5.3 Depletion phase
3.5.4 Recession phase

The phases of a surface irrigation event were listed previously: (1) advance; (2) wetting or ponding; (3) depletion; and (4) recession. The field measurements needed to evaluate each of these phases are as follows.

3.5.1 Advance phase

Data from an evaluation of the advance phase are generally the most important in terms of the information they develop. In preparation for these tests, points in the field should be located with a grid of markers or stakes as outlined in Subsection 3.1. In fact, the grid put in place to establish this field topography can be used for the advance and recession phase analyses. It is often helpful to add a couple of stakes near the field inlet of borders and basins which have a marking that will allow observation of the water depths.

Measurement of the cross-sectional geometry of furrows and corrugations is important in furrow evaluations. For each furrow, the cross-sectional geometry should be measured at two to three stations before and after the irrigation. A profilometer for determining the cross-sections of furrows is shown in Figure 37. Individual scales on the rods of the profilometer provide data to plot furrow depth as a function of the lateral distance. These data can then be numerically integrated to develop geometric relationships such as area verses depth, wetted perimeter versus depth and top-width verses depth.

Figure 37. Furrow profilometer for evaluating cross-sectional shapes

During the evaluations the depth and extent of the water surface should be measured periodically at selected points. These data can be combined with flow areas to compute the surface storage.

There are two important measurements necessary during the advance phase: (1) the discharge hydrograph onto the field or into the test furrows; and (2) the elapse time from introduction of the water until the advancing front reaches each of the stations along the direction of flow. It is important to maintain the inflows during tests at constant levels. Variations significantly affect the movement of the advance front. Forms for recording the readings are given in Figure 38 for furrows and Figure 39 for borders and basins.

For furrow irrigation, the tests are conducted on individual furrows and the advance readings are simply distance from the furrow inlet as a function of time. For borders and basins, the technique for measuring the rate of advance is to plot contours of the advancing front at periodic intervals. If the field is bare or the crop height is small, the advancing front can be photographed to assist with contouring the advance. The field stakes should be marked in such a manner that allows easy identification for purposes of sketching and identifying locations. A typical example of advancing contours in a square-shaped basin will be shown in the next section.

3.5.2 Ponding phase or wetting

The 'wetting phase' is usually more applicable for furrow and border irrigation where tailwater runoff can occur between the end of the advance phase and the cutoff. Ponding is the more common term for basin irrigation. The measurements needed during this phase are either the runoff hydrograph, if one occurs, or the ponding; if the end is dyked. The flow rate from borders is substantially higher than from a single furrow and, thus, the hydrograph should be measured with a flume or weir. During an evaluation, the water should run off the field for a sufficient length of time to develop a relatively steady runoff hydrograph, even if this means over-irrigating. The runoff hydrograph is needed to determine the basic intake rate of the soil.

3.5.3 Depletion phase

The depletion phase begins at the time of cutoff, extends through the time that the ponded water surface elevation declines and ends when any portion of the ground surface is bare of water. The only measurement that needs to be recorded is the time the first areas are drained.

3.5.4 Recession phase

For surface irrigated fields the recession phase ends when the surface water disappears at each measuring station and is recorded on forms such as shown in Figures 38 or 39. The time difference at each measuring station between the clock time or cumulative time for advance and recession is the intake opportunity time.

Figure 38. Data recording form for furrow irrigation evaluations (from Ley, 1980)

Figure 39. Format for recording basin irrigation evaluation data (from Walker and Skogerboe, 1987)

Recession is difficult to observe because there is not a discernable receding edge. Further, the flow may recede from both ends of the field simultaneously. Nevertheless, as the water drains from the field, the time of recession at the field stations is helpful information.

For the purposes of furrow irrigation, two very simple procedures are proposed. First, recession in furrows with a slope of 0.25 percent or more is relatively linear. To describe recession, it is suggested that the flow be observed mid-way along the furrow and at the end. When the flows have reduced to a nearly drained state, approximately 90-95 percent, record the time as the recession time at the two points. Then approximate the recession trajectory by plotting a curve through the following three points: (1) time of cutoff at the field inlet thus neglecting depletion; (2) time of recession at the mid-way point; and (3) time of recession at the lower end of the furrow. Secondly, if the furrow slope is less than .25 percent, assume the recession is negligible and simply record depletion time at the end of the furrow.

Recession in borders is generally a much longer period of time than in furrows, but it may be quite well approximated by the three point method noted above for furrows, the only difference being to use the depletion time as the upstream point instead of the cutoff time. In basins, the post-cutoff period is usually limited to a depletion phase which will occur at the same time over the basin depending on the variations, and undulation in the surface topography.

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