Water control and management is a concept that has been applied by man almost since the beginnings of civilization; first, developed when Egyptians found it necessary to divert the life-giving waters of the Nile River onto their fields and crops. Since much of Egypt received insufficient rainfall to sustain food crops, it was absolutely necessary to find a way to transfer water from a plentiful source to one where water was lacking.
That same basic requirement is with us today and becoming increasingly important in a time of global warming and increasing populations around the world; water and its scarcity will transform the 21st century and define its economies and politics. Conserving water for human consumption and agriculture will be the challenge. Agriculture in the Western U.S., not unlike most of the world, consumes 70% of all available water; precious little left for humanity, which defines the problem. Indeed, the fight is already fully engaged about how scarce water will be allocated; in terms of finding new water, conservation is the low-hanging fruit.
The Only Way to Conserve Water Is Through Efficient Management
While an impressive amount of infrastructure is in place around the world to capture, store, deliver and apply water for agricultural purposes, the job is only partially done and what infrastructure is in place tends to be old, inefficient, and often in various states of disrepair. Most of the installed infrastructure is manually operated. The only way to seriously manage water is through the widespread application of automation on a grand scale for reservoirs and distribution networks then downstream to canals, control stations, and gates; real-time management is the only way to minimize spill and inadvertent overuse as well as fine tune distribution so water goes where it is needed and only when it is needed.
Oversee Distribution Networks with SCADA Software
Computerized management systems, SCADA, oversee large- and small-scale distribution networks but the ground-level tools for management are “smart” control gates that manage flow through a system and out to farmland. They control flow at every level of a distribution network and are critical for management and conservation success.
Gates come in a variety of styles, and certainly sizes, from very large Tainter (radial) gates to small delivery slide or sluice gates on minor canals and their laterals. The important defining characteristic of gates is that they control the flow of water through an opening whether it is a spillway on a reservoir, diversion off a river, headings on a canal, or delivery to a field. Smart gates are gates that are equipped with actuators, electro-mechanical devices that open and close the gates, and programmable devices, PLCs, that can manage gate operations as stand-alone control stations or as nodes on an interconnected network of control stations. Smart gates utilize data collected in real-time either locally or in concert with data from remote stations to manage flow or level locally; networks of gates may interact to manage flow or level across a range of widely dispersed sets of gates.
For example, if a delivery system is spilling water at its furthest delivery location, many gates including the primary diversion made need to adjust to limit flow at the extremes of its reach to control the spill. Conservation and efficient distribution of water requires real-time control and that can only be achieved with smart control stations.
Automated Smart Gates
Automation, whether it comes via retrofitting existing systems or installing new equipment, is paid for when water becomes valuable as a commodity. As the cost of labor to manage manually controlled systems rises and the demands for water from competing constituencies accelerates, delivered water to farms or elsewhere becomes more valuable especially where one economic sector controls so much of the resource as is the case with agriculture. Demand for water encourages the search for ways to maximize beneficial use, minimize waste, conserve where possible, and find ways to distribute conserved water to the benefit all concerned. Smart gates are the keys to successful automation and are applied to applications on the large- and small scale to suck water from the stone of historic delivery systems.
Distribution Systems move and control a lot of water and require heavy duty equipment for them to operate. The equipment and civil works associated with it are large and therefore require institutional power to implement. The economic analysis to make investment in smart-gates attractive requires that. History seems to prove that the larger the agricultural institution the more likely that it will automate early since the cost and benefits are spread across a large number of sources. The cost of sending staff dozens of miles each way several times a day to make gate adjustments over hundreds of miles of canals and laterals required by daily or even hourly changes of delivery orders is a major incentive to automate.
Smart Gates Promotes the Value Water Savings
The value of water savings by limiting waste though over-delivery or spill accrues dramatically if hundreds or thousands of turnouts are involved since water districts survive by selling the water they deliver on a volumetric basis; automation using smart-gates and real-time flow measurement that goes with it are the only solution to the problem of regulating flow accurately.
The key to investing wisely in smart-gates is to look for products that are simple and cost efficient to purchase and manage, can be readily customized to fit into varied civil works, are delivered as integrated units easy to install and maintain, are easy to install with a minimal crew and support equipment, can be readily retrofit to existing equipment such as smart-actuators for existing gates, are setup to take in local data and transmit that to a Base Station running SCADA software so the local station can contribute to system-wide management goals, and are well supported by a single vendor.
Smart Gates are the tools required to manage water distribution on any scale in real-time; the key to conservation success.