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Spring Cleaning your Irrigation System

It’s Spring, time to prepare your drip or sprinkler system for the coming Irrigation season

Over the past 35 years I’ve seen many serious irrigation system problems that could have been easily addressed with a good Spring Cleaning. Most everyone has heard they should prepare their irrigation system for the winter to ensure it’s ready for a hard freeze. Just as important as Winterizing is the need for Spring Cleaning. Prior to winter, we often use acid treatments to clean out driplines or micro sprinklers, but as the system sits unused the elements are still active within it. Many types of insects like to nest in a black riser that heats up during the day and is insulated from the cold. The same attraction goes for control panels and valve boxes, inviting unwanted guests.

I’m often asked what steps will prepare a system for the next irrigation cycle. My general answer is that it’s best to start at the pump station and follow the flow direction to the end of the drip line. A few details follow.

Pump Station Spring Cleaning mostly consists of ensuring that all wire connections are intact. Be sure the area around the pump looks clean and dry and there is no winter derbies covering the intake. Next check that the pump control boxes have not become homes to unwanted mice, spiders or ants. If pests are present, check for damage to wire insulation or electric components before beginning extermination. Also check that high power connections are tight and secure.

Springtime is a great time to check on the health of your filter system. With media filters, I like to open the top lids of the tanks and check the sand level, filling them as necessary. I’ll also open the sand bed with a small shovel taking care not to hit the underdrain collector. The sand bed should be light and fluffy without dirt or other derbies. Look for stratification where dirt that was not removed during a flush cycle has moved into the sand bed. If this has occurred, as shown in picture, correct it either with a heavy flush cycle or by removing and replacing the sand.

Auto Screen filters should be serviced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Springtime is the perfect opportunity to open the filter and check the screen for holes and tears. Check the gaskets and replace any that are cracked. Take apart manual screen or disc filters and inspect for damage. This is also a great time to power wash the screens.

Once past the frost and freeze date, it’s time to pressurize your irrigation system and flush your pipelines.

I have been asked by some growers if they need to flush their system at the beginning of the season if they had thoroughly flushed it at the end of the last season. The answer, often, is “yes”. There are many entry points for contaminants when a system sits over the winter and parts of the field are flooded by heavy rain. During flooding I have seen dirty water flowing out of the ends of buried driplines that were left open after the last flush. Flood water in the field can be deep enough to push water, dirt and other material backwards through the drip emitters, into the driplines and out of the open ends. In the process contaminants are deposited throughout the system that can cause serious clogging issues during the next season. This is also time to flush out those pests that took up residence in your risers. Flush your system.

After flushing your pipelines and driplines, close off the system and check it for leaks while it’s still pressurized. Even outside of the normal farming season there is activity in the field that can lead to damage: Trenches settle. Rodents and other pests look for things to bite. In some areas small earthquakes have been known to disrupt pipe and cause cracks.

Starting each year with an irrigation Spring Cleaning will help you avoid problems that can be devastating if they are discovered mid-season. It will improve irrigation uniformity, reset your system back to its designed efficiency and ultimately will extend the life of the components, improve your crop and save you money.

If you have questions about this article or would like to ask me a question just give me a call or drop me a note online. (442)279-3152