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Understanding Water Quality and Its Impact on Soil and Irrigation Systems


Water quality plays a crucial role in the health of our soil and irrigation systems. In this blog post, we will explore the origins of water, its journey through the ground, and the nutrients and minerals it carries. We will also discuss the potential issues associated with water quality, such as plugging risks and the impact on plant nutrition. By understanding these factors, we can make informed decisions to ensure optimal soil and crop health. Where Does Water Come From and How Does it Impact Soil? When rainwater hits the ground, it infiltrates the soil, absorbing minerals and characteristics from the soil itself. As water moves through different layers, such as sand and gravel, and into aquifers, its composition can change. It is important to note that as we pump water from aquifers for irrigation, the water source may shift, affecting its composition. This emphasizes the need to regularly test water samples, especially during heavy irrigation periods, to identify any potential issues.

Interpreting Water Sample Results

Water samples are typically tested for various minerals that provide insights into its composition. For example, sodium, bicarbonate, nitrate, potassium, boron, calcium, and sulfate are some of the minerals analyzed. The results help us understand the impact of water on the field. When we irrigate, water is absorbed by plants or evaporates, but the minerals remain in the soil. The concentration of minerals in water can be estimated by multiplying the parts per million (ppm) value by two to determine the pounds per acre of nutrients applied. For example, if the sodium in your water sample is 111 ppm, for every 9 inches of water irrigated, there is approximately 222 pounds per acre of sodium left in the field.


The Good and the Bad: Some minerals in water are beneficial for plant nutrition, such as nitrate, potassium, boron, calcium, and sulfate. However, there are also minerals that can have negative effects. Sodium, iron, manganese, and bicarbonates fall into this category. Sodium, for instance, can decrease plant-available water and interfere with nutrient uptake. Bicarbonates tie up cation fertilizers in the soil, potentially causing issues over time.

Plugging Risks and Solutions

Plugging, caused by iron, manganese, and iron bacteria, is a common concern associated with water quality, especially with subsurface drip irrigation. Initial values of iron and manganese above certain thresholds, along with the presence of bacteria, indicate the need for careful monitoring. Bicarbonate levels above 250 ppm can also contribute to plugging. To address these issues, oxidizing minerals and filtering them out can be effective. Sequestering agents can help prevent oxidation until the minerals exit the irrigation system. Special sand media with chlorine, and sulfur burners are some of the options for treating iron, manganese and iron bacteria.

Addressing Nutritional Concerns

Sodium can negatively impact plant health and interfere with nitrogen uptake. It is crucial to leach sodium out of the soil through proper irrigation practices. Gypsum, sulfuric acid, and sulfur burners can be used to expedite this process. Bicarbonates, on the other hand, can be reduced by lowering the soil's pH. Sulfuric acid, sulfur burners, and gypsum can be effective in addressing bicarbonate accumulation in the soil.

Filtering Systems and Sand Filtration

Drip irrigation systems typically incorporate filtering systems to prevent plugging. Sand filtration is particularly useful when dealing with iron and manganese. Sand has an ion exchange capacity that disc filtration lacks, making it more efficient at removing these minerals. Special sand media can enhance the filtration process and minimize the need for additional oxidizers, such as chlorine or hydrogen peroxide.


Understanding water quality and its impact on soil and irrigation systems is essential for maintaining healthy crops. Regular water testing, monitoring mineral levels, and implementing appropriate treatment methods can help address potential issues. By optimizing water quality, we can ensure the longevity of your irrigation system and even improve yields and plant health.

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