Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Civil and Environmental Engineering

Committee Chair(s)

Christopher M.U. Neale


Christopher M.U. Neale


Lawrence E. Hipps


Bethany T. Neilson


Bruce Bugbee


Mac McKee


Irrigation systems are designed to deliver water to crops, but their efficacy varies widely due to operational decisions, weather variability, and water availability. The operation of an irrigation system is studied in this dissertation to determine irrigation performance and potential for improvement.Satellite remote-sensing was used to determine inter-annual variability in crop evapotranspiration and link it with weather patterns and operational decisions. A decade was studied to include several dry, wet and average years of snowfall. It was found that the irrigation district has the capacity to buffer a dry year, but crop evapotranspiration patterns indicated that the buffer capacity of the irrigation district is limited in a second dry year.

Studying the current operations of an irrigation system also requires an analysis of the spatial variability within the system to identify potential areas for improvement. Achieving such information is challenging due to the spatial heterogeneity between farm fields. The Ador irrigation system simulation model is used in this study with satellite remote sensing data, which were combined in the calibration and validation process to ease the re-adjustment of management parameters. This approach provides a cost-effective and innovative method for model simulation when field observations are limited.

Alternative water delivery scenarios were simulated with the Ador irrigation system simulation model to quantify changes in the water balance, irrigation performance, and water productivity. Results for implementing a minimal irrigation time indicated that irrigation events occurred with a higher frequency and reduced crop water stress. Water productivity for the irrigation district increased substantially in this scenario, whilst district water savings were achieved by diverting less irrigation water. Advantages are only achieved if farmers collectively make the decision to change.

A water accounting analysis is required to examine if water savings are achieved at basin scale. There is a potential for the rebound effect to occur, which suggests that an increase of water efficiency causes the increase of water consumption. Simulation results indicated that if the efficiency is increased through improvements of the water delivery, the water consumption increased. Water savings achieved by reducing irrigation diversions did not compensate for the decrease in drainage that downstream users depend on.