New tools developed by Agricultural Research Service scientists are improving water management in arid regions.

In areas where water is scarce, land managers irrigate with water that travels via intricate canal systems. At the ARS U.S. Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, Ariz., director Bert Clemmens and his colleagues are developing computer software to automatically control canal gates.

The software, called Software for Automated Canal Management, or SacMan, senses water level changes within the canals and responds accordingly, moving the gates to increase or reduce the water flow. This technology could improve efficiency and give land managers greater control and flexibility. The researchers have also developed training software for canal operators.

In related work, Clemmens and his colleagues have also updated a software program called WinSRFR, which simulates, designs and evaluates surface irrigation systems.

The model is available online, and has users throughout the United States and in 14 countries around the world.

One user is the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which evaluates proposed conservation practices with the program in order to install more efficient surface irrigation systems.

WinSRFR has various modules that enable users to simulate the results of various management strategies. One module evaluates irrigation events. Another shows how different design options affect a field's irrigation efficiency. A third shows the effects of various operational choices.

Although each module operates separately, information can be transferred between them. Together, they can help land managers make decisions about how to arrange and water their fields.