Drip trickle irrigation is a water-saving irrigation method in which water is delivered to the plant roots through holes or dripper heads on plastic pipes with a diameter of about 16 mm. It is currently the most effective way to save water in areas that suffer from drought and water shortage, with a water utilization rate of up to 95%.
Drip trickle irrigation has higher water-saving and yield-increasing effects than sprinkler irrigation, and can also be combined with fertilization to increase fertilizer efficiency by more than double. It can be used for irrigation of fruit trees, vegetables, cash crops, and greenhouse crops, and can also be used for field crop irrigation in areas with drought and water shortage. One of its drawbacks is that dripper heads are prone to clogging, hence the water source should be strictly filtered.
Proper planning and management of drip trickle irrigation systems are required to fully benefit from these advantages. One of the main challenges is keeping the dripper heads unclogged. The causes of dripper head clogging are biological, physical, and chemical. Distinguishing between surface water and groundwater is useful because different water sources bring different clogging risks.
The most common physical cause of dripper head clogging
Sand particles are usually found in surface water. Other suspended solids may be too large to pass through the emitter's opening and may clog it.
Under certain conditions, mud-sized particles can form larger aggregates, which may cause clogging. Turbidity is often used as an estimate of suspended solids, but cannot accurately indicate the likelihood of clogging. Proper filtration systems designed according to water quality can prevent physical clogging of drip trickle irrigation systems.
The biological cause of dripper head clogging
Drip trickle irrigation systems provide favorable environments for bacteria, fungi, and algae that can cause mucus accumulation. Bacterial mucus may be the direct cause of dripper head clogging, but it can also induce mineral particles to stick together and form aggregates large enough to clog the emitter's opening. When manganese, sulfides, and iron are present in the water, this phenomenon is particularly significant.
Depending on the type of bacteria responsible for mucus, its color may lean towards red, yellow, or gray. Clogging caused by microorganisms is common when using water with high biological activity, relatively high levels of iron or manganese, and hydrogen sulfide compounds. Proper chlorination and disinfection procedures are critical for controlling biological clogging in drip trickle irrigation systems.
The chemical cause of dripper head clogging
Mineral precipitation may occur when the solubility of minerals is low enough. The solubility of a given mineral depends on water temperature, its pH, the oxidation-reduction potential, and the concentration of mineral elements present in the water.
The common elements that cause blockage of drip trickle irrigation emitters through precipitation and sedimentation are calcium, magnesium, iron, and manganese, with calcium carbonate being the most common precipitate. Water containing high concentrations of these elements and a pH higher than 7.0 may cause clogging of the drip trickle irrigation system.
Adding fertilizers to the source water (irrigation fertilization) may cause clogging of the drip trickle irrigation system due to chemical interactions and high mineral concentrations exceeding their solubility limits. It is recommended to use acidic fertilizers, inject acid solution into the irrigation system regularly to dissolve sediment, and prevent dripper head blockage. Water hardness can usually be determined by measuring the electrical conductivity of irrigation water.
Generally speaking, surface water carries more biological and physical blockages, and groundwater usually has higher mineral concentrations and is more prone to chemical clogging.
To avoid clogging of drip trickle irrigation emitters, it is recommended to follow the following checklist:
Test the clogging causes of source and irrigation water.
Filter large particles or aggregates, such as sand and clay, before water enters the emitter.
Eliminate microorganisms through proper disinfection and water treatment.
Adjust pH, monitor the solubility limits of fertilizers, and avoid chemical interactions between fertilizers to prevent chemical precipitation in the irrigation system.
Regularly flush and maintain irrigation lines and discharge outlets.