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  Developing a Water Management Program
In This Advisory
Purpose - The purpose of this advisory is to:
  • Provide a brief description of the most common components of a Water Management Plan.
  • Describe the common components of a Plan document.
  • Describe how to set up a web site.
  • Explain the various duties of a Water Management Coordinator.
  • Describe what an Irrigation Evaluation Service does and how to set one up.
  • Describe the options for providing irrigation scheduling services/data.

Water is a scarce and valuable resource.  It is essential that resource management agencies have plans, and continue to update those plans, so as to utilize this resource in the most efficient manner possible.  Development of a Water Management Plan or Program can serve several purposes:
  • It can provide the impetus to evaluating current and projected supply/demand situations.
  • It can lead to identification of where future problems could occur.
  • It tells the world that you have a rational plan for managing your supply/demand situation.
  • It can provide the rational for implementing various water conservation programs.
  • It can provide the background data needed to apply for grants and/or low interest loans
IMPORTANT!! Developing and implementing Water Management Plans are mandatory for US. Bureau of Reclamation water contractors.  Some type of similar Plan is recommended for any water resource management agency.

Common Components of a Water Management Plan
The following is a list (although by no means complete) of common components of a water management plan or program

Development and publishing of the Water Management Plan Document - this is the formal recognition that there is an approved Plan in place. Refer to the section of Publishing a Water Management Plan Document for guidance on what might be included in the Plan documentation.

Appointing a Water Management/Conservation Coordinator - this is a person within the service agency who is responsible for some or all aspects of implementing the Plan. Many times this person is only concerned with the water conservation parts (i.e. aide to the agency membership in improving individual water management practices).

Publishing a Newsletter - a newsletter keeps the agency members, and any interested outside parties, apparised of activities within the service agency. They may be published once a month but probably should not be published any less than once a quarter. The newsletter could include articles describing various water conservation/management practices, descriptions and updates concerning on-going demonstrations, notices of educational seminars by the service agency or other groups such as University Cooperative Extensions or manufacturers, etc.  Figure 1 below is a newsletter from the Kern River Conservation District, concerned only with improved on-farm water management.  Figure 2 is the Westlands Water District newsletter.  You can see that it contains articles of general interest to the membership.

Development of a web site - the use of the Internet will become as commonplace as using the telephone or reading a newspaper. To many it is already an essential part of living and business. It is a very cost effective method of "publishing". New content can be posted on the web for immediate perusal at the leisure of the membership.

Irrigation Scheduling Data/Services - although some service agencies have very extensive irrigation scheduling services (see the Westlands Water District site for example), it may be that all that is necessary or appropriate is to install an automated weather station to generate reference evapotranspiration estimates.

Irrigation Evaluation Services - irrigation evaluation services (IES) are a recognized and very common "best" management practice for agricultural water suppliers. IES evaluate irrigation systems and management. Although the results include a numeric estimate of distribution uniformity, their real value lies in the educational opportunity.

Figure 1 - Front page from a recent edition of the KRCD Irrigation News

Figure 2 - Front page from a recent edition of the Westlands Water District newsletter, "The Irrigator"

Publishing a Water Management Plan Document
The Water Management Plan Document (the Document) does not have to be long or complicated. The US Bureau of Reclamation (BurRec) has published "Water Management Planner: Guidebook, Plan Format, and Supporting Software". This serves as a guide to developing a Document according to BurRec standards. As noted previously, all Plans are not the same. However, it is instructive to look at the various components recommended for a BurRec-approved Plan. The following sections need to be in a BurRec Plan:
History - a short history of how the Plan authoring agency came into being.

Location and Facilities - what is the service area of the authoring agency and what facilities are in place for physical control of the water.

Topography and Soils - since the BurRec Plans are primarily for agricultural districts, they desire a short description of the topography and soils in the district. This may or may not be appropriate for the authoring agency. However, this section may provide reasons for some of the Plan programs.

Climate - obviously, the climate will be one of the main drivers for total water consumption as well as the pattern of use.

Natural and Cultural Resources - natural resources may identify potential new water sources, or indicate where water resources have to be delivered. Cultural resources includes identifying important archaeological and historical sites that may be important considerations for future development.

Operating Rules and Regulations - this would include descriptions of how water is allocated, ordering procedures, policies concerning surface and subsurface drainage, and policies on water transfers both within and between agencies.

Water Measurement, Pricing, and Billing - this would include how water is measured in the service area, the accuracy levels, types of turnouts used, how pricing is determined, when bills are issues and when they are due, policies on delinquent bills, and accounting procedures.

Water Shortage Allocation Policies - what happens in a water-short year.

Inventory of Water Resources - this section fully describes the supply/demand situation. This would include all sources of water (ground water, surface water, rainfall) and all uses of water (crop water use, municiple and industrial use). There should be a section describing water quality throughout the service area. Finally, there should be a description of drainage/sewage within the service area.

Formal Programs for Improved Water Management - this would include any centralized management/conservation programs such as development and/or demonstration of best management practices or low interest loan/grant programs for implementing best management practices. Cognizant personnel should be identified. Another source of guidance for plan development, also developed with funding from the USBR, is at .

Developing a Website
The use of the Internet is fast becoming as commonplace as using the telephone or a fax machine.  It is a very cost-effective, convenient form of communication between the agency and its members.  Cost-effective because content (messages, graphs, data, etc.) can be prepared and immediately available, rather than having to print and mail.  Convenient because the members can look at the information at their liesure. Although the Internet is not a simple medium, there are people/companies that specialize in developing web sites for businesses and individuals.  Contact the  Center for Irrigation Technology (559 278-2066) if you need more information concerning web site development.

The Water Conservation Coordinator
The Water Conservation Coordinator is the person responsible for developing and implementing the water conservation component of the management plan.  This person may be dedicated to this one task at larger agencies, or may have several duties at smaller ones.  Consultants have been hired to do this job.   Typically the Water Conservation Coordinator may be responsible for such tasks as:
  • publishing the newsletter
  • coordinating seminars
  • ensuring access to irrigation scheduling information
  • attending meetings on behalf of the agency

Implementing an Irrigation Evaluation Service
Irrigation event evaluations are a recognized “best” or “efficient” water management practice in either general water conservation programs or nonpoint source pollution programs.  The general techniques have been developed over the last century by NRCS (the old SCS), universities, and private industry.  Formal Irrigation Evaluation Services (IES) have been active in California since early 1980's.  They are generally known as Mobile Irrigation Laboratories. IES and nonpoint source pollution programs.  Although IES can stand alone in a water conservation program, they are a natural, and probably essential, part of any nonpoint source pollution (NPS) program aimed at irrigated agriculture.  You may want to refer to the full Advisory on Nonpoint Source Pollution (which includes a summary of common components of NPS control programs).  
To review, NPS generally occurs in a 3-step process.  These are:
  1. Availability – a potential contaminant is put in the environment
  2. Transformation/detachment – it is detached or transformed into a mobile entity 
  3. Transport – it is moved to where it is becomes a contaminant IES and NPS programs
Transport mechanisms include wind, machine, and water.  As related to irrigation, surface runoff can carry sediments, along with adsorbed chemicals and fertilizers to surface water bodies.  Deep percolation can carry soluble chemicals and fertilizers into ground water.
Note that the general relationship defining Irrigation Efficiency (IE) is:
    IE = beneficial use / total applied water
What isn't beneficial use (for each irrigation)?  Surface runoff and deep percolation beyond leaching requirements.  Thus, if irrigation efficiency is increased then there will be less surface runoff and/or less deep percolation, thus reducing transport.
An IES evaluates the following:
  • System hardware – including the condition and the basic design 
  • System management 
  • Specific situation – how hardware/management works in that situation 
  • Usually evaluates Distribution Uniformity (DU) 
  • Includes evaluations of factors affecting overall Irrigation Efficiency (IE), such as leakage, irrigation scheduling techniques, and runoff 
Please refer to the Advisory concerning Irrigation Performance Measurements .  To review, there are two measures of performance:
  1. Distribution Uniformity (DU) – a measure of how evenly water is applied/infiltrated across a field 
  2. Irrigation Efficiency (IE) – a measure of how much of the applied irrigation water is used beneficially (crop water use, leaching for salt control, frost control, and certain cultural practices)
There are two important relationships between DU and IE:
You need good DU before good IE, if the entire crop is to be watered sufficiently
Good DU is no guarantee of good IE 
Thus, to improve irrigation efficiency first look to distribution uniformity (usually), then, look to aspects of overall efficiency such as:
  • timing
  • knowing “how much” to irrigate
  • the ability to control the total application
  • restrictions on flexibility at the farm level and the water supply level.
Note that in certain situations, maybe it will be best to look to timing, control, scheduling first.
An IES can evaluate irrigation efficiency (and they have been used to do so), but the calculation of IE depends on the physical boundaries (field, farm, district, basin) and the time boundary (single event, seasonal) of the measure.  Calculation of IE also depends on accurate measurements of water volumes applied and drained from the field, and soil moisture depletions before and after the irrigation.  Estimates of irrigation efficiency are open to misinterpretation.  Concentrating on the calculation of a number for DU or IE misses what should be the point of the IES program, EDUCATION!
IES results will include an estimate of event distribution uniformity and identification of possible improvements.  Note that the  DU is “ESTIMATED”.  The calculated number is not the absolute, accurate, cast-in-stone, constant DU.  The following factors must be kept in mind:
  • There is usually a questionable (if any) statistical basis for sampling during the evaluation.  
  • The evaluation occurs under specific environmental conditions.
  • The accuracy of measurements taken during the evaluation may be +/- 5 – 15%.
MOST important is (should be) the educational value of IES.  This includes identification of where improvements may be made in the system hardware and management, as well as teaching the basic science of the irrigation system type used.  EDUCATION should be the goal, not calculation of a number.
IMPORTANT! - It is NOT recommended that you use the results of an IES program for important macro-level water allocation decisions.  At farm level use them for guiding improvements.  At policy level use the results for deciding where further programmatic efforts are needed, or to indicate that indeed, improvements are being made.
There may be extensions to standard IES programs.  These might include efforts to improve fertilizer program management, energy efficiency programs (such as pump testing or energy audits), aides to on-farm irrigation scheduling, demonstrations of soil/plant moisture monitoring, etc.
It is actually fairly simple to develop an IES as far as the hard logistics are concerned.  Standard lists of the required evaluation equipment are available and these can be filled for in the $1,000-5,000 range.  Some type of vehicle will be needed to move the equipment to the field.  Most often this has been a pick-up truck with a service body.  However, in at least one situation, the sponsors decided on using a trailer.  The concept was that private consultants or other government agencies would borrow the trailer and equipment.  
The actual evaluation procedures have been standardized and in some cases computerized.  There are some options here:
  1. One set of methods has been standardized and computerized by California State Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo.  They have also developed training courses.
  2. The NRCS has developed an evaluation method.
  3. Different Australian groups have developed their own methods.
Generally you will need a computer.  But most important, you need experienced personnel, trained in the specific techniques.
Annual costs will include vehicle insurance, maintenance, and fuel, office, supplies, and replacement equipment.  There will probably be a certain cost allocated for on-going training.
Most often IES has been a service provided by a local/state/ federal agency.  In several cases these groups have become quasi-consulting groups for areas without an IES.   Contracts at $800-1200/evaluation have been seen.  An option is to hire private contractors.  They will be responsible for their own equipment, vehicle, and training and will be on call as needed.  This is a very flexible alternative and may result in lower evaluation costs.   $650/evaluation is a starting point for one group in California.  Consultants have been used in a major programmatic situation.  They are also being used as an on-going service through a Resource Conservation District. 
The question for either is quality control.   Are the numbers being generated correctly?  Is the education effort effective?  An important component of an IES program is oversight.  This may come from a technical committee, an outside consultant, or possibly a government agency charged with encouraging the use of IES.
IES are fairly simple to start.  The question is keeping one going.  Will the initial financing be from a Government grant or is there significant local support?  Assuming that it is a grant, what happens when the grant “goes away”?  Will the evaluation be offered as a free service or will a farmer contribution be required?  Where will the equipment and vehicle be housed?  Who supplies the office, insurance, and maintenance?  Who will be responsible for overall program design and oversight.
To reiterate one important point, do not key on the numbers, key on the EDUCATION.  An irrigation evaluation is a  prime opportunity for one-on-one EDUCATION.  It is admittedly a rather expensive contact, but with EDUCATION this cost can be leveraged.
Contact the Center for Irrigation Technology (559 278-2066) for more information and guidance if you are contemplating starting an Irrigation Evaluation Service as part of your Water Management Plan.

Irrigation Scheduling Aides
Irrigation scheduling is a generic term applied to any number of techniques, all designed to aide the farmer in deciding when and how much (how many inches to apply, hours per set, etc.) to irrigate.  Adopting some form of irrigation scheduling is another recognized "best" management practice.  A common component of agency water management/conservation programs is providing some level of aide to farmers in order to encourage the use of irrigation scheduling. The aide may be simple or very thourough.  Common types of aide include:

  • Identifying irrigation scheduling consultants to the agency membership - it is noted that some commercial consulting groups range far from their home towns,  A farmer searching on his own may not realize that additional resources are available from some other area.
  • Providing estimates of reference evapotranspiration - although graphical/sensor-based irrigation scheduling (refer to the Advisory on Graphical/Sensor-Based Irrigation Scheduling ) can proceed without it, the important basis for most techniques is knowledge of a reference evapotranspiration (ET).
    There are several reference ETs in use.  The three most common are:
    1. ETo, the ET of a well-watered, lush pasture grass
    2. ETp, the ET of well-watered, mature alfalfa
    3. ETpan, evaporation from a U.S. Weather Bureau Class A evaporation pan
    CIMIS, California Irrigation Management Information System, is a state-wide system of standardized weather stations.  These stations develop estimates of ETo.  The information is available by phone, computer modem, or on the Internet.  Many water management-related sites, including WATERIGHT, access the CIMIS system (if you are in California, click here to view data from the station nearest you).
    Commercial weather stations and the class A evaporation pan are also available so that an agency does not have to utilize a state/federal level system if it chooses not to do so.
  • Provide seminars and sponsor demonstration fields - this is a specific extension to what should be some level of on-going education to the membership.
  • Provide detailed estimates of crop ET, soil holding capacity, weather forecasts, etc. - some agencies have very complete programs for encouraging the use of irrigation scheduling.  This extends to distributing weekly updates of predicted ETo and specific crop ET for the most common crops grown in a district.  The Westlands Water District in the San Joaquin Valley of California is a notable example.