What is the future of irrigation and water management?

November 3, 2021 -  By
Chad Sutton

Chad Sutton

They say the only constant is change, and after 25 years in the irrigation industry, I have to agree. Here are some predictions — some bold, others downright sci-fi — on the future of irrigation and water management.


Say goodbye to wires. The days when an errant excavator slices through a bundle of 50 wires will be behind us. Wireless valves will be the norm someday for larger installations. They’ll use a long-range, low-power, wide area network, which is wireless technology. Batteries will be replaced by inline, turbine-based generators, providing juice to supercapacitors. On top of all that, wireless valves will have great features such as ultrasonic flow sensing technology — in every valve. Ultrasonic flowmeters use sound waves to determine the velocity of a fluid flowing in a pipe. With this technology, you’ll get very detailed alerts telling you exactly which valve is stuck open or weeping and how much water each zone of the landscape has used.


Say hello to your drone. Drone-based irrigation inspections, with automated artificial intelligence reports, will help alleviate the ongoing labor crunch. Just as we use many of our human senses to inspect irrigation, such as sight, sound and touch, the drone will be equipped with a bevy of sensors to replicate our abilities and then far exceed them. Your irrigation drone will fly to every station and will use infrared, thermal and acoustical sensors to determine where any irrigation problem is located. It will use its submeter GPS to pinpoint the problem on a geographic information system-based (GIS) map. A history of problems (with photos) will be logged in the GIS for reference. This data will be used to make automated suggestions to upgrade system components that fail most frequently or convert areas experiencing above-average damage. Included in the report will be a heat map to show areas affected by runoff and a list of expected materials needed for repair with an estimate of labor hours to complete the task. This data will flow automatically into software and instantly create work orders pending your review and approval.

Say goodbye to dragging hoses. Drones will use automated water generators (AWG) to deliver precise supplemental irrigation. The AWG will extract water from humid ambient air, using condensation — cooling the air below its dew point. This water, created from thin air, will be used to irrigate plants that need it most, rather than overwatering the whole zone. The drone’s AI will use machine learning and stereo vision to evaluate color and appearance to prioritize plants needing supplemental watering. Drones also will come equipped with an army of helper drones inside. The team of tiny drones will replace catch cans, instead utilizing droplet rate sensors and moisture probes to give a real-time readout of distribution uniformity and water movement through the soil. Super slow-motion video will count water droplets from each nozzle, compare the current rate to the known baseline and then report exactly which nozzle is clogged.
This data will be fed into the AI, and a report will come across your screen telling you why your zone is dry in certain areas.

Alternative sources

Say hello to new water sources. As our water supply becomes scarcer, we can look to sources like condensate from air conditioning. The constant drip that used to run down the drain will now be collected and stored in on-site tanks to provide much-needed water. Filters will clean this water and then deliver it through highly efficient subsurface drip irrigation. The good news about condensate is that it is produced in the greatest quantities when it is typically hot and evapotranspiration is high.

While these predictions may turn out to be fact or fiction, the sure bet is that change is right around the corner.

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