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Cost-Effective Telemetry For Agricultural Applications

Rural areas with irrigation districts and small municipal water systems face distinctive issues because of their size and geography.

Water shortages in irrigation districts, for instance, mean that farmers need the most accurate information possible to understand how the water they pump is being used. Relying on estimates, no matter how scientific, tends to yield unreliable numbers. And while flow meters would provide the best data, most of these districts don’t have the staffing resources to frequently take readings, as the meters can be spread far apart. For the small water systems in those rural areas, the problems extend to billing accuracy and getting a handle on non-revenue water.

Implementing telemetry — the ability to transmit flow meter readings — would allow those water managers to work smarter, not harder, by aggregating critical, real-time flow information. However, until recently, telemetry was expensive and plagued with problems.

Now, McCrometer FlowConnect™ with ExactRead™ technology provides an ideal solution in rural and agricultural settings with a built-in method for collecting and transmitting flow data from McCrometer’s Mc®Propeller and Water Specialties® propeller meters. FlowConnect’s one-piece design eliminates the need for cables, pole mounting, and other hardware required by traditional telemetry systems.

Why Accurate Data Is Crucial 

Water in irrigation districts is a constrained resource. Because there is not a lot to go around, allocation is critical in many regions.

For example, a farmer may be told they can pump a well for a specific amount of time at a designated flow rate, such as 1,000 gallons per minute (gpm). If that farmer is actually pumping 1,500 gpm, because they are using unreliable estimates, then they risk over-pumping by 50 percent. By the same token, if a farmer is told they get an allocation of 1,000 gpm but is pumping at 750 gpm based on bad estimates, they will be shorted on the allocation by 25 percent.

Using an accurate meter is the only way to ensure allocations are done fairly and equitably. Getting the data transmitted to water managers is the only way to make it cost effective.

When farmers have the data at their fingertips by using tools such as FlowConnect, they can better manage the allocation process throughout the season while practicing conservation that helps to meet regulations, balancing upstream and downstream water rights and optimizing water use during shortages. Additional agricultural benefits include the ability to document water use trends by irrigation type, crop, and soils, as well as the ability to integrate with water management tools such as well level monitoring, precipitation monitoring, and crop water use tracking.

The McCrometer team installs a FlowConnect atop a saddle-style McPropeller in Nebraska.

FlowConnect allows small municipal water systems in rural areas to be more efficient by ensuring billing accuracy and generating timely reports, which can be sent at selected intervals. It also helps to detect potential meter faults, thereby minimizing meter downtime.

Gaining Traction

In its infancy, telemetry solutions were arduous to install and maintain. These were relatively large systems that required a significant enclosure mounted on a large steel pole with a solar panel. The transmitter on the propeller meter was also wired into the enclosure, which was a complex procedure. Maintaining the big, bulky systems caused headaches. Damage from weather and animals, such as shredded cables and downed masts, was common.

With FlowConnect, telemetry has been reduced to fit into the head of the meter and ExactRead provides an exact match from the meter to the website. This reliable remote meter reading with streamlined design comes preassembled on new meters for simplified installation and can be retrofitted on existing meters in less than 30 minutes.

Managers of irrigation districts and small municipal water systems are beginning to see that McCrometer’s system with onboard telemetry offers significant benefits with reduced vulnerability, when compared to traditional technology. Adoption of FlowConnect is gaining momentum, especially when state and federal grants are available for water conservation and allocation projects to offset some of the investment costs. Officials from McCrometer can assist water managers in writing grant applications.

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