How to Prepare for Irrigation
During Water Shortages
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Table of Contents
- I have an irrigation system that works well. What more
can I do?
- I irrigate from a stream, as do my neighbours. If we
all irrigate at the same time there may not be enough water. What can
- What else can I do?
- What if I still do not have enough water to irrigate
all my crops?
- If I irrigate directly from a water well, what can I
- I have a trickle irrigation system which is supposed
to be very water efficient. Do I need to do anything?
- I think there should be more water in the stream. I
am concerned that someone is using too much water. What can I do?
- Useful References
This Factsheet provides general information on how to use your irrigation
equipment efficiently and what you can do if water supplies run short.
There is a wide range of crops grown and numerous irrigation systems used
to irrigate them. Each combination cannot be dealt with individually.
It is up to you to apply and use these principles for your individual
Note: You must have a "Permit to Take Water"
issued by the Ministry of the Environment to irrigate more than 50,000
litres of water in a day from either a surface or ground water source.
Q1 I have an irrigation system
that works well. What more can I do?
Step back and review your entire operation. Look for improvements that
will reduce your water use or ensure that you are using only that amount
which is needed.
- Inspect your system when it is operating and make sure there are not
any leaks. If any are found, repair them. Check your system frequently.
- If possible, irrigate later in the day or evening, when temperatures
are lower and there is less evaporation loss. This may not be an option
for all crops as disease could be an issue.
- Avoid irrigating during windy conditions. Not only is water loss due
to evaporation much higher, but it is difficult to obtain an even distribution
of water, especially for large volume gun systems.
- Use rain gauges to measure how much water is being applied and if
it is the intended amount. Consider using enough gauges to determine
how evenly you have irrigated.
- Watch your system to ensure that the application rate does not exceed
how fast the ground will accept it (infiltration). If it does, you will
see runoff. Not only is this a waste of water, but you are also not
getting the full benefit of the application.
- If you have a system where the pipes are moved between irrigations,
try to allow the pipes to drain back into storage, if possible.
Q2 I irrigate from a stream, as do my
neighbours. If we all irrigate at the same time there may not be
enough water. What can I do?
Recognizing the situation is a major step in the right direction.
- Understand and respect the rights of all who have an interest in the
water. Try to understand the effect your taking of water may have on
others. Make appropriate decisions. Consider organizing with your neighbours
to set up a staggered irrigation schedule, so that everyone is not irrigating
at the same time.
- Some systems require operating a large pump over a short period of
time. Consider the following system, which has less affect on the stream
and is easier to manage.
- Dig a pond near a stream to use as a temporary storage.
- Pump from the stream into the pond, using a smaller pump over
a longer period of time.
- The major withdrawal for irrigation then takes place from the
pond with the larger irrigation pumps. This is a better sharing
of the water resource and is easier to manage.
- Remember, even if you have a Permit to Take Water from the Ministry
of the Environment, it does not give you the right to take all the
water in a stream.
- Dont forget that there are many other uses and needs for the
water in streams. At no time can you take the entire flow from a stream
or block the entire flow. Become familiar with the conditions and your
responsibilities as outlined in your Permit to Take Water.
Note: Your Permit to Take Water states: "For surface
water takings, the taking of water shall be carried out in such a manner
that the stream flow is not stopped and is not reduced to a rate that
will cause interference to downstream uses of water or with the natural
functions of the stream."
Q3 What else can I do?
If you do not have one, develop an irrigation plan. If you have a plan,
review it to make sure it is up to date.
- Inventory how much water you have in storage, or have access to, from
streams or water wells.
- Set out a desired irrigation scheduling program. Take into account
projected needs of the crop, soil type, evaporation and transpiration,
rooting depth, critical periods of growth, etc.
- Review and understand the conditions of your Permit to Take Water.
Do not exceed the limits of your permit.
- Follow your irrigation plan and update it as needed.
- Either weekly or daily, review your volume of water in storage or
water availability. Determine if your water supply matches your needs.
Q4 What if I still do not have enough
water to irrigate all my crops?
Part of your irrigation plan should include a contingency or emergency
plan outlining what you will do if your water supply does not meet your
demands. Some hard decisions may have to be made. Each situation will
- Which crops will suffer more if you cut back on irrigation?
- Which crops are at a critical stage?
- Can you reduce the irrigation rate further?
You will have to set priorities for your particular situation Prepare
your emergency plan prior to any emergency. In the heat of the moment
it is more difficult to make these very important decisions. It does not
make it any easier, but hopefully, you will make better choices.
Q5 If I irrigate directly from a water
well, what can I do?
- Operate within your Permit to Take Water conditions.
- Monitor the effect of the pumping on the static water level of any
of your other wells or neighbours wells, if possible.
- Shortly after pumping, monitor the static water level from the well
you are using, to see:
- how much the water level has been drawn down, and
- the recovery rate of the well. The pump may make this difficult,
unless you have special equipment installed or an adjacent
- Consider hiring a hydrogeologist to assess what effect your water
withdrawal may have on the ground water and neighbouring wells. Monitoring
wells may be needed to document the impact of water withdrawals.
Q6 I have a trickle irrigation system
which is supposed to be very water efficient. Do I need to do anything?
Trickle irrigation systems are very efficient. But many points from the
previous questions also apply to trickle systems, especially maintenance,
scheduling, monitoring your water supply, developing an emergency plan
Q7 I think there should be more water
in the stream. I am concerned that someone is using too much water.
What can I do?
- Verify that there should be more water. Check flow levels upstream
at road crossings. Lower stream flows could simply be the result of
the dry weather.
- If low flow levels are the result of withdrawals by upstream neighbours,
consider discussing the situation with them. It may be possible to work
out a schedule that will meet everyones needs and maintain a flow
in the stream.
- Do not get into a confrontational situation with your neighbours.
If relations are already tense or suspect, it may be better to get a
third party neighbour or commodity representative involved that is respected
- If necessary, contact the Ontario Ministry of the Environment to verify
that there are valid Permits to Take Water in place and to find out
what options are available to you.
The following publications are available from the Ontario Ministry of
Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs:
Hardcopies of these Best Management Practices can be ordered through