Optimal strategies for monitoring irrigation water quality

Nathan Lothrop, Kelly R. Bright, Jonathan Sexton, Jennifer Pearce-Walker, Kelly A. Reynolds, Marc P. Verhougstraete

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The quality of irrigation water drawn from surface water sources varies greatly. This is particularly true for waters that are subject to intermittent contamination events such as runoff from rainfall or direct entry of livestock upstream of use. Such pollution in irrigation systems increases the risk of food crop contamination and require adoption of best monitoring practices. Therefore, this study aimed to define optimal strategies for monitoring irrigation water quality. Following the analysis of 1357 irrigation water samples for Escherichia coli, total coliforms, and physical and chemical parameters, the following key irrigation water collection approaches are suggested: 1) explore up to 950 m upstream to ensure no major contamination or outfalls exists; 2) collect samples before 12:00 p.m. local time; 3) collect samples at the surface of the water at any point across the canal where safe access is available; and 4) composite five samples and perform a single E. coli assay. These recommendations comprehensively consider the results as well as sampling costs, personnel effort, and current scientific knowledge of water quality characterization. These strategies will help to better characterize risks from microbial pathogen contamination in irrigation waters in the Southwest United States and aid in risk reduction practices for agricultural water use in regions with similar water quality, climate, and canal construction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-92
Number of pages7
JournalAgricultural Water Management
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Agriculture
  • Escherichia coli
  • Food crop safety
  • Irrigation water quality
  • Monitoring guidelines
  • Water management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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