The Consorzio di Bonifica Emilia Centrale (CBEC) is one of the reclamation consortia of the Emilia-Romagna Region, Northern Italy. It is responsible for the irrigation and water drainage of an area of nearly 3130 km2, 1345 of which in the fertile alluvial plain of the Po river. Most of the water required for the irrigation is withdrawn from the Po river (on average 200 Mm3/year; other intake structures operate along the Secchia and Enza rivers, two major Po river tributaries). The water is distributed over the cultivated area by means of a complex irrigation infrastructure: more than 3580 km of canals, more than 200 small streams, 6 draining plants and 72 pump stations with an overall capacity of 416 mc/s. This complex network ensures the irrigation of about 140.000 ha of cultivated area. The following Figure 1 presents the water intake (left), an open earth channel (centre) and typical operation for the filling of the irrigation canals (right).

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Figure 1. The water distribution management pilot environment

The supply and irrigation network consists of open channels on earth. The main canals are characterized by relevant widths and therefore their filling for the irrigation season involves the use of substantial water volumes that are not always recoverable for irrigation purposes. Water losses are due to infiltration through canal banks and bottom, as well as to the management of the irrigation network that requires the filing of long canals stretches and several minor streams to accommodate farmer needs. Furthermore, the irrigation network also acts as drainage network for the cultivated areas. This implies the need to empty the system in case of rainfall events during the irrigation season in order to ensure the drainage of the alluvial plain.

The actual irrigation system is essentially based on farmer’s initiative and acts following those steps:

  1. The farmer contacts the CBEC via call center or web and communicates the water needs, irrigation and crop type;
  2. CBEC collects the requests and plans the service in relation to the weather forecasts and requests of other farmers served by the same network;
  3. CBEC’s staff contacts the farmer and provides the water by operating on the irrigation network and filling the canals (operations are typically performed manually by acting on gates, sluice, spillways, pumps, etc.)

In these conditions, an efficient management of the irrigation network requires:

  1. Appropriate estimation of crop needs in relation to crop types, soil characteristics, crop condition and weather conditions and forecast.

Efficient water network management based on an appropriate planning of the irrigation scheduling for the farmers served by a given irrigation district.

The pilot area is represented by an irrigation district of about 160 ha in which the water during the irrigation season is ensured by means of few principal open canals and a dense network of minor streams. The overall canal network of the reference district (~7.1 km in length) received water by means of 3 main intakes and has 3 outlet sections. The irrigated area (63 fields in 2016, with an overall extent of about 78 ha) is mainly intended to wine production (vineyard) but there are also cultivations of pear, apple, soy and corn. The pilot will consider different crops (2/3 irrigated fields) and different irrigation system among those adopted in the area (e.g., sprinkler, pivot, drip irrigation) as reference for upscaling the potentials of the application.

The SWAMP project will aim to enhance the overall system efficiency by acting at two different levels:

  1. Farmer level: This will ensure a better estimation of water needs in terms of both amount of water and time of delivery. This will be achieved by the implementation of the IoT infrastructure that enables the integration of ground-based information (e.g., soil humidity, temperature, crops conditions, etc.) with weather forecast. The evaluation of benefits in terms of water consumptions and crop productivity will be monitored by comparing pilot areas with similar crops managed following the current procedure.

  2. Consortium level: The management of the irrigation network will benefit of the optimization of multiple water requests ensured by the technological platform. The platform will collect water needs adjusting the operational management of canals network by merging detailed information concerning the water needs, weather forecasts, and multiple requirements from farmers served by the same irrigation infrastructure. In particular, the SWAMP project will enable the monitoring, automation and remote control of the principal hydraulic infrastructures, through which the CBEC manages the water distribution within the irrigation district. The renovation of the hydraulic infrastructures (by means of sensors and automatic devices) together with the implementation of the IoT platform and data analytics scheme will enable a consistent enhancement on the water distribution management that will persist even after the project life.

Regarding the farmer level, point 1), the IoT platform has to gather and organize environmental observed data, to be assimilated in a soil water balance model and to produce smart information about irrigation addressed to the farmer. In the case study, the data collection will involve:

  • weather observed data by means of agro-meteorological stations (one or more for the pilot farm in order to be representative of the local micrometeorology);
  • short-term weather forecasts (i.e.: 7 days) produced by local models such as Cosmo-LAMI available as open data;
  • soil moisture sensors;
  • drone images to calculate the NDVI during the critical phenological stages to detect the crop status.

All the data should be elaborated by the smart platform, within a soil water balance model, to have more accurate estimates of the crop water needs (actual evapotranspiration), based on data from soil-plant-atmosphere.

The SWAMP project will verify on the pilot area the benefits of the IoT platform. In particular it will ensure:

  • efficient and flexible irrigation in relation to crop requirements estimated in relation to field-based data and weather conditions;
  • Improving of crop yield;
  • Reduction on water wastage;
  • Optimization of the hydraulic network by means of appropriate irrigation scheduling;
  • Real time management of the hydraulic infrastructures;
  • Real time and smart communication among operators responsible of the irrigation network and farmers.