Farm advice: Repairing your irrigation system following a flood

IrrigationNZ shares a few tips to keep in mind as you get back to work after a flood, including electrical safety precautions


With ongoing changes in weather patterns and the extreme events we have seen in early 2023, at some point your irrigation system may become affected by flooding, such as pumps and electrical systems being underwater, with systems damaged by overflowing water, sediment damage, and much more.

For those in the flood damaged areas of the North Island our thoughts are with you, and although irrigation is possibly the last thing you are thinking of at the moment, there will be a time again when irrigation is required and you will need to consider some things when it comes to fixing it. As waters drain and soils dry out, part of the salvage procedure will include checking irrigation systems for harm and performing maintenance/repair before those systems can be used. This includes stock water, farm drinking water, and irrigation.

Staying safe is critical, so make sure that electricity is shut off when inspecting electrical elements. It is advised to contact your local well driller or pivot company service technician to get your systems inspected, as damage may have occurred, and more damage could be caused by operating the system before it is safe to do so. Depending on the water level, inspection and maintenance might be needed for the power unit, irrigation well, and centre pivot. Listed below are areas to look at with each of these components.

Starting Up Irrigation Equipment After a Major Flood Event: What You Need to Know

As farmers and growers, we know that irrigation is critical to the success of our crops. It’s what helps us produce high-quality produce, even in the face of difficult weather conditions. However, after a major flood event, starting up irrigation equipment can be a tricky and dangerous process. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you get back to work after a flood, including electrical safety precautions:

Check the Safety of Access Routes

Travelling to and around your land might still be hazardous. Previously safe rural roads and farm tracks might not be as you left them. Obstacles may be buried under waterlogged silt and can cause navigational issues on your blocks. Take special care when weather conditions are still poor, it is late in a hectic day with diminishing light, or you are tired and stressed.

Assess the Damage

Before you start any irrigation equipment, it is recommended that the first order of priority on a flooded block is to get an industry professional to assess whether the assets can even be run. Look at your fields and assess the damage. Look for any debris, erosion, or other changes that may have occurred due to the flood. Be sure to check your irrigation equipment for any damage, as well. Floodwaters can move equipment around, which can cause damage or even render it inoperable. Make sure everything is in good working order before you begin.

Check Electrical Components

Floodwaters can damage electrical components and make them unsafe to use. Be sure to check all electrical components, including motors, control panels, and wiring, for signs of damage. If you see any evidence of water damage or corrosion, do not attempt to turn on the power until the system has been thoroughly inspected and repaired by a qualified electrician.

Ensure Electrical Safety

If you need to work on any electrical components, turn off the power and lock out the electrical panel to prevent accidental energization. Do not attempt to turn on any electrical equipment until it has been thoroughly inspected and tested by a qualified electrician. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines when working with electrical components.

Clean and Sanitize

Floodwaters can bring all sorts of contaminants with them, including bacteria and other harmful pathogens from upstream especially with effluent ponds over-topping or septic tanks failing. Before starting up any stock water or household drinking water equipment, it’s worth consideration to clean and sanitize any water storage thoroughly to remove any potential hazards. For household water supplies, you may need to use a disinfectant solution to wash your equipment thoroughly and rinse it off with clean water once it’s available.

Check Your Water Supply

After a flood, it’s important to check your water supply to make sure it’s still safe for irrigation (and for that matter stock water and household drinking water). If your water supply comes from a river or other open body of water, there may be contaminants in the water that could damage your crops, especially low growing vegetables, or pose a health risk. Consider having your drinking water tested by a reputable lab to make sure it’s safe for use again.

Start Up Slowly

When you’re ready to start your irrigation and pumping equipment, do so slowly and cautiously. Start with a low pressure and gradually work your way up to your normal operating pressure. This will help you avoid any sudden surges of water that could further damage your equipment or pipelines where the damage may not be apparent under first inspection.

Monitor Your Crops

After a flood, it’s essential to keep a close eye on your crops as they grow. Floods can damage crops in a variety of ways, from washing away soil and nutrients to depositing harmful chemicals. Make sure to monitor your crops carefully and adjust your irrigation practices as needed to ensure they receive the proper amount of water.

In conclusion, starting up irrigation equipment after a major flood event requires careful attention and preparation, particularly taking electrical safety precautions. By assessing the damage, checking electrical components, ensuring electrical safety, cleaning and sanitising your systems, checking your water supply, starting up slowly, and monitoring your crops, you can help ensure a successful growing season, even in the face of difficult weather conditions. Stay safe, and happy farming!

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