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SDI in the Great Plains​

Livestock Wastewater Utilization with SDI -- A Pilot Project

Project Leaders

Dr. Freddie Lamm, Research Agricultural Engineer
Dr. Todd Trooien, Research Agricultural Engineer

Project Team

Dr. Loyd Stone, Research Soil Physicist
Dr. Alan Schlegel, Research Soil Scientist
Dr. Gary Clark, Research Agricultural Engineer
Dr. Dan Rogers, Extension Agricultural Engineer
Dr. Mahbub Alam, Extension Agricultural Engineer

Midwest Feeders Inc.
Jeff Sternberger, Manager
Steve Kliewer, Farming Operations


Livestock wastewater has come under heavy scrutiny in Kansas for a number of reasons. Three major issues are odor, seepage into groundwater and runoff into surface water supplies. K-State Research and Extension is presently involved in several different projects and programs to address these issues. One of these projects is to utilize the livestock wastewater with subsurface drip irrigation (SDI).

Why consider SDI?

SDI has a number of advantages over other methods of wastewater utilization or disposal. These include limited human contact with the wastewater, no aerial sprinkler application resulting in less odor and no pathogen drift, fewer climatic application constraints (e.g. high winds or frozen soils), no runoff of wastewater into surface waters, no soil surface application of phosphorous-rich wastewater, greater uniformity of application resulting in better control of water, nutrients and salts, less irrigation system corrosion, greater flexibility in matching field and irrigation system sizes; and better environmental aesthetics due to lower visibility of wastewater irrigation application.

The potential rewards from the successful use of SDI to utilize livestock wastewater are considerable. However, this project is exploratory; it may or may not reach the goal of long-term utilization of livestock wastewater with SDI. Even so, the project will generate useful information about what products and techniques work and which do not work.

The Research Challenge

Clogging is the #1 cause of microirrigation system failures worldwide. This is true regardless of water quality. The research challenge is to prevent clogging of the SDI system to allow long-term system use. Prevention of clogging of microirrigation systems is attempted by three primary techniques, filtration, proper dripline and component selection, and water treatment.

Meeting the Challenge

Wastewater use will certainly require filtration with disk or sand media filters. Screen filters will probably not be adequate. In this installation, an automated spin-disk filter was selected. It will backflush whenever the pressure drop across the filter reaches a programmed threshold, or on a minimum time interval, whichever happens first. Backflush water is discharged back into the lagoon.

Clogging happens at the emitter (the smallest point in the system), so five different emitter flow rates (resulting in different emitter sizes) are being tested in this experiment. It is expected that some of these emitter sizes will be more prone to clogging.

Chemical water treatment will be required on a periodic or continuous basis. Two separate chemical injection units are ready to inject N-Phuric acid and common household chlorine bleach. The acid can be utilized to keep some chemical contaminants in suspension and also to lower the pH of the water. The chlorine is similarly used to keep some contaminants in suspension and also to kill bacterial organisms that might clog the emitters. Careful monitoring of dripline flowrates and pressures will be required to determine if clogging is occurring and if chemical treatment is required.

Closing Statement

Microirrigation systems are being used worldwide to dispose of treated municipal effluent. Will the utilization of livestock wastewater through SDI systems be successful? That answer is not known, but one of the purposes of research is to find out on a small scale what technologies do work. The cost of SDI systems is higher than traditional irrigation systems and a system failure leaves less recoverable equipment investment. Thus, it is wise to examine this technology and to try to successfully develop it through research before livestock producers attempt it on a larger scale.

For additional information, feel free to contact:

Dr. Freddie Lamm, Research Agricultural Engineer
KSU Northwest Research-Extension Center
105 Experiment Farm Road
Colby, Kansas 67701
Voice: 785-462-6281
Fax: 785-462-2315
Email: flamm@ksu.edu

Dr. Todd Trooien, Research Agricultural Engineer
KSU Southwest Research-Extension Center
4500 E. Mary
Garden City, Kansas 67846
Voice: 316-276-8286
Fax: 316-276-6028
Email: ttrooien@ksu.edu

Entities contributing significant amounts of products or services
Gigot Irrigation
Netafim Irrigation
Roberts Irrigation
Ag Toro
Senninger Irrigation
Midwest Electric
Watermaster Inc.
Pivot Alert