Friday, December 7, 2012

Spate Irrigation? A New One On Me

Cruising the web I ran across the term "spate irrigation" and wondered what it was.  Yes, there is a web site for this type of irrigation - which is essentially using flood flows beneficially in a desert (or near desert) environment.  It's a fairly low-tech irrigation system that uses gabions and/or low head dam structures in and near the river beds to divert flood flows onto adjacent lands desiring to be irrigated.  As you might expect, the irrigation opportunities are hit and miss from year to year, and the system maintenance can be an on-going endeavor.

This is another of those very old technologies utilized in the Middle East for several thousand years now.  The listed benefits include groundwater recharge along with all the usual suspects, which caught my eye.  I guess every little bit helps.  I also like the philosophy of getting a little unexpected benefit from the flood flows rather than trying to completely master not only them, but the entire river system as well - 24/7. 

I think the reason I've never heard of this type of irrigation is because Colby and Northwest Kansas is not yet considered a desert - although it's sure feeling like one of late.  Then again, maybe I just don't get out enough.  In any event, running across this type of irrigation system is clearly another reason to keep exploring our water world and writing these fresh-to-me, blog posts.  I hope you've learned something new, as well.


  1. I hadn't heard the term spate irrigation before, but that is how the Tohono O'odham people of the Southwest farmed for thousands of years before the BIA decided to drill wells for them. They call it "ak chin" farming. They mostly used brush dams that would get wiped out in bigger floods but were easy to rebuild. It was a necessary adaptation to their environment.

    1. Chris:

      Thank you for the related information - clearly the same technology utilized by a different culture. This one is new to me, too, of course. I knew I could count on you for an improvement to my info. Thanks again. Wayne.