More efficient sources of water distribution for agricultural and general usage

(1) Crean Lutheran High School, Irvine, California, (2) Irvine High School, Irvine, California, (3) Global Youth Mission, Brea, California

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Current irrigation systems that disperse water above ground waste an enormous amount of fresh water. Since fresh water is a limited resource, new irrigation systems are desperately needed to make agriculture more sustainable. To investigate this issue, we tested two new watering systems for water efficiency and successful plant growth compared to traditional overhead sprinklers, systems that spray droplets of water (similar to rainfall) from above, with sesame plants. One system utilizes an underground pipe to distribute water intermittently; the other utilizes an underground cloth saturated with water to provide a continuous and gradual diffusion of water to plants. We hypothesized that both underground methods would be more efficient than the sprinkler method, saving more water and resulting in comparable plant growth. Given that sesame plants have been shown to prefer well-drained soil (and do not do well in standing water), we suspected that the cloth method would be more effective at delivering the minimal amount of water needed for these plants. We found that the underground cloth-based water diffusion method saved more water compared to the other distribution systems; however, it also resulted in a slight reduction of the yield (plant growth). The underground pipe-based water distribution system outperformed the sprinkler system (used less water); however, it still produced the same yield. Based on these experimental results, we propose substitution of the conventional overhead sprinkler watering system with underground methods such as a pipe- based water distribution system or cloth-based water diffusion system to conserve water.

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