California Polytechnic State University

Irrigation Education to Optimize 75% of the World’s Diverted Water

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Project Summary

Water scarcity impacts most aspects of human life, including energy consumption, aquatic environments, poverty, food supply (the World Bank estimates a need increase 70% by 2050), gender equality, potable water, economic stability, civil conflicts, and more...and irrigation uses 75% of the world’s diverted water. Climate change exacerbates water shortages and groundwater overdraft. Expertise is lacking to overcome well-documented low irrigation project efficiencies and mismanagement. Economists and water resource specialists abound, but there are few pragmatic experts to design and provide real-time management of irrigation projects. Most US university irrigation programs have disappeared.This project will leverage the proven commitment, educational and technical expertise of the Cal Poly Irrigation Training and Research Center (ITRC), and the US Committee on Irrigation and Drainage (USCID) with international expertise. A blended (web plus hands-on) irrigation education program will empower modernization of US and international irrigation districts, and 800,000 acres of US Indian Irrigation Projects.

Problem Statement

About seventy-five percent of the diverted fresh water in the world is dedicated to irrigation. Worldwide, we are overdrafting our groundwater basins, showing that we are already consuming more water than is available. Irrigation diversions have dried up rivers. Yet the need for food will expand and we must restore water-sensitive environments. Something must change. Fortunately, we know solutions that can maintain in-stream flows and improve crop production per drop of diverted and consumed water.The ability of irrigation projects to control, measure, and provide good water delivery service rarely receives attention. Lack of control and transparency creates social problems, unwillingness of farmers to pay fees, corruption, failure of water user associations, and very low crop yields are results. Technical expertise on irrigation project modernization is sorely lacking. Large donors, economists, and politicians believe that designs are simply “details” and can be readily solved by engineers. However, civil engineering education focuses on static systems (concrete, steel, water, etc.), not dynamic irrigation systems with large social components. The consequence is inappropriate design and management of irrigation canal and pipeline systems, and poor on-farm irrigation.Why is technical expertise lacking? In the United States, university irrigation programs have almost disappeared. Where there are some university irrigation programs here and abroad, inexperienced recent Ph.D. graduates are hired as professors with little or no practical knowledge and with a narrow theoretical and modeling research background. They are unable to understand and teach the pragmatic aspects of complex irrigation project engineering and management.

Solution Overview

This project will provide training material and structure for international university irrigation programs. Cal Poly will be the hub for advanced degrees and certificates – targeting United States and international professionals and students who need the knowledge today. The development of classes and implementation of training programs can occur in parallel. New infrastructure and courses and processes, plus institutionalized degree and certificate programs at Cal Poly and international universities will ensure continuity and sustainability after the five years. Most United States irrigation projects are managed privately or by local governments, enabling them and their consultants to quickly apply new knowledge. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is currently awaiting up to $1.8 billion funding approval for modernization of the 800,000 acres of Indian Irrigation Project (IIP) land. Native American trainees will be able to immediately apply their knowledge in appropriate planning and design.Irrigation in most developing nations is light-years behind California. While this program is intended to provide some immediate solutions, the primary goal is to establish a strong educational foundation for the future. There will be some rapid successes as well as some failures.Obvious measures of success will be the development of the courses, implementation of them, training programs during that period, partnerships developed, and future sustainability plans implemented. We will use surveys of participants and how they apply their new knowledge and what recommendations they have for improvement.

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