Designing sustainable irrigation networks with InfoWorks WS Pro 

Trevor English Trevor English November 14, 2023

4 min read

Agriculture accounts for roughly 70% of global water usage annually – a staggering statistic that underscores the world’s need for sustainable and well-managed irrigation systems. In addition, irrigated agriculture accounts for 40% of the world’s food supply, despite taking up only 20% of the world’s cultivated land. With severe weather events, the impacts of climate change, and droughts growing more common, the need for well-managed irrigation will only grow. 

At the core of understanding and managing irrigation systems is the challenge of understanding, designing, and maintaining water infrastructure – challenges that Autodesk’s water portfolio of products is uniquely suited to solve. 

Understanding irrigation demand globally 

According to the U.S. EPA, it’s estimated that 50% of water used for irrigation is lost to leakage, evaporation, runoff, or other issues stemming from inefficient irrigation management and design. That means that roughly 35% of the world’s global water supply is lost each year due to these issues. That’s a staggering amount. 

Irrigation isn’t just an agricultural food supply issue, it also comes to play in areas where maintaining grass, plants, and foliage is essential. Sporting venues utilize irrigation systems for their fields. Large gardens or commercial venues leverage irrigation to keep their greenery alive and well. There are even industrial use cases like dust prevention where irrigated water comes into play. 

At the core of the irrigation challenge are four main types of irrigation: surface, sprinkler, subsurface, and drip. Each of these irrigation types presents various management and modeling challenges, with some utilizing pressurized pipe networks and others open channels. This complexity necessitates software tooling that can handle open channel and pressurized flow in the same system.  

Combatting drought and energy shortages 

The importance of efficient and sustainable irrigation is made more pertinent by the increased risk of drought and rising energy costs. Recent prolonged periods of low rainfall and increased drought in various parts of the world and unseasonable frost have increased demand and stresses on irrigation systems.  

Many irrigation systems at their core require energy input in the form of pumping. Additionally, when in a period of drought, any bit of water loss is made much more damaging – making worse the 50% loss mentioned above. Pumping across vast irrigation networks can be highly costly, meaning that small efficiency improvements in the network brought about by more efficient design and planning can compound drastically in terms of pumping cost and operation. 

The benefits of smart irrigation modeling 

Autodesk InfoWorks WS Pro is a collaborative hydraulic modeling software built to improve the reliability of water distribution networks, including irrigation. The application has been used throughout all regions of the world due to its ability to mimic precise time varying operations and controls through changes in demand and storage on different days of the week and seasons.   

Specifically, the application provides multiple benefits for irrigation use cases: 

Moving past assumptions and into data is key to sustainability  

The ability to model a well or abstraction point ensures there are less assumptions made when looking a full system planning and design. In complex systems where there are multiple sources InfoWorks WS Pro can ensure you understand water quality and interactions of different sources which is managed sufficiently.  

These complex systems have a combination of pressurized pipes and open channels for transporting water and moving water in the most optimal way. The software’s advanced simulation engine can model the integration of both pressurized and non-pressurized pipes to allow you to have an accurate network as possible without the need for simplification or multiple models. Additionally, InfoWorks ICM, a sister product, allows for even more complex modeling of open channel flow, as needed. 

With the increase in energy costs, the understanding of pumping costs throughout the network has become more prevalent. By using the electricity tariff tools within the software, engineers are able to have an understanding of the true cost of pumping and how to optimize it. 

InfoWorks WS Pro can improve the understanding, planning, and design of varying demand profiles and schedules, ensuring the leakage calculation and assessment can be done sufficiently to help minimize and localize leaks and water loss which can be further enhanced with the help of connection to metered data.  

Finally, hydraulic models can be transformed into a real-time digital twin bringing together this complex hydraulic model with pressurized pipes and open channels, telemetry data and demand forecasting to give you a representation of the network now as well as its predicted performance in the short term, allowing you to have an understanding if thresholds are to be met and how to manage the system to move water sufficiently to ensure a constant and safe supply.  

Our product pages detail InfoWorks WS Pro and its features further, and you can request one of our product experts speak to you further about what InfoWorks WS Pro can do for you on our contact page

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