Surge Irrigation


Blaine Hanson
UC Irrigation and Drainage Specialist
Larry Schwankl
UC Irrigation Specialist
Warren Bendixen
UC Cooperative Extension, Santa Barabara County
Kurt Schulback, Farm Advisor
UC Cooperative Extension, Monterey County

Properly managed, and under the right conditions, surge irrigation - turning water on and off as it runs down the furrow - can lessen runoff and percolation and save water and energy costs. This handbook helps irrigators manage surge irrigation by providing in-depth, comprehensive coverage of the topic, including measuring irrigation uniformity and efficiency, setting flowrates and surge valves, controlling runoff, applying fertilizer (fertigation), and saving energy costs. Illustrations, graphs, tables, glossary, index.

1994, 48 pp - Publication 93-02 - $20

Funded by the California Energy Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Water Quality Initiative If you have comments or suggestions, please email the LAWR webmaster at

Last reviewed December 19, 2002

Water Management Handbook Series
Surge Irrigation
Publication #93-02

Table of Contents


  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures

What is Surge Irrigation?

  • Surge Irrigation: An Overview

How Surging Can Make Irrigation More Efficient

  • Measuring Irrigation Uniformity and Efficiency
  • Slowing Infiltration With Surge
  • How Surging Affects Water Advance
  • Making Infiltration More Uniform

Operating the Surge System

  • Setting the Flowrate and On/off Times
  • Valves
  • Surface Runoff
  • Fertigation
  • Propeller Flowmeters
  • Will Surging Save Energy?

Surging At a Glance: A Checklist

  • Glossary
  • Index


Surge irrigation - turning irrigation water on and off as it flows down the furrow - offers a number of important advantages over conventional continuous-flow surface irrigation. Properly managed, and under the right conditions, the surge method can cut down on surface runoff, lessen deep percolation, save water, and reduce energy costs. Surge irrigation also offers the potential for irrigation to be semi-automated. On the negative side, surge irrigation requires close management. Because it slows the water infiltration rate, surge irrigation can lead to under- irrigation, and if not managed properly can actually increase runoff compared to conventional irrigation methods. It also requires gated pipes and carries with it the need to maintain surge equipment.

This handbook, which draws on the field experience of the University of California irrigation specialists and farm advisors, is intended to help water managers use surge irrigation. Designed as a practical guide, it explains how surge irrigation can overcome variations in soil texture throughout the field, make water infiltration more uniform, and improve overall irrigation efficiency. Readers should scan the glossary at the back of the book to familiarize themselves with the key terms before working through the text.