Irrigation Pump Control

Written by:
Dan Vnuk


Automated control system improves processes in California vineyard.

Viticulture is the science surrounding the growing of grapes used to make wine. In the counties north of San Francisco,  it is big business. This is the home of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties, where some of the finest wines in the world are produced.

Yolo County, in the Sacramento Valley bordering Napa, also has many acres under wine cultivation. While the grapes are of excellent quality, the varying types of soil and valley locations translate into growing conditions that require expertise and hard work. Temperatures can range from a frosty 27 F in the winter to summer highs of more than 100 F. The area averages only 12 to 16 inches of rain per year. 

Typically, only one wine grape crop, harvested by the end of November, is harvested. The growing season is long and the need for an abundant supply of water is critical from May through October. The predominantly sandy soil allows the water to percolate through. Therefore, without an extensive system of reservoirs and canals maintained by the county, nothing could be grown there.

The Vineyard

Located near tiny Esparto, Calif., the Rolling Hills Vineyard has 178 acres of grape arbors on a ranch owned by the Mondavi family and managed by Shannon Ranches, Inc. The grape arbor has been cultivated for the past 25 years. It is in a valley, which means that more water is needed to produce yields comparable to other north coast wine-producing areas.

Shannon Ranches shares water from a Yolo County District Water Gate with RH Phillips, a 1,700-acre ranch owned by Constellation Brands, a global wine producer. The water is delivered via an underground pipeline to the Phillips vineyard six miles away. There are two pumping stations along an irrigation canal that supply Rolling Hills and the Constellation site. 

Shannon Ranches pumping station


Ensuring that operations run smoothly and that the annual yield is met is the job entrusted to Eugenio Figueroa, vineyard manager, Shannon Ranches, Inc. 

He has worked in the vineyards for the past 12 years, with Shannon Ranches for four years and previously with Constellation Wines. As the manager of operations, Eugenio supervises 25 workers year round, but that number can grow to 120 depending on the season. 

“It’s extremely important that we get all the water that is allowed to us,” Figueroa says. “We order the water we need in feet per second, and the county supplies it. 

“However, the water level in the canals changes as other users take what they require. The county maintains a reservoir that gets the water from Lake County, about 80 miles north of us, and then distributes it by irrigation canals throughout our county. Most of our pumping stations use electric motor-driven pumps that incorporate variable speed drives, but we are not on the grid at this site so we rely on engine/pumping systems that use a diesel engine driving a 2,500-gallon-per-minute pump. We actually have four diesel engine pumping stations that I’m responsible for.”

Water Supply & Volume Problems

Maintaining and controlling the diesel engine pump sets has always been problematic and labor intensive, according to Figueroa. Twice each day, and sometimes more, he or an employee would take a pickup truck to visit each pumping site to make sure the pumps were running and supplying the water as needed. 

He was familiar with engine controls made by an instrumentation and controls company because nearly all the engine/pump sets in the area used its products. 

“We’ve been using FW Murphy control systems for the past four years, ever since we’ve been at this location,” he says.  The automated control system was installed in mid-summer 2011. The vineyard needed a control system that would increase the speed of the pump when the level went down to make sure that the operators could get all the water allotted. Now, Figueroa and other operators can monitor the pump’s performance from a smart phone, from PCs at home or in the offices on site. Without automated controls, the pump, at times, would not run fast enough to get all the water that was wanted or would even run dry when the water was gone. The new control system can: 

Stop and start the engine

Vary the speed

Smooth out the peaks and valleys of the water levels in the canal 

In the past, if an engine shuts down overnight and a worker does not arrive until morning, the vineyard would lose a half day of pumping and could not get the water back.

“Normally, I would start and end my day at an engine/pumping site,” says Figueroa. “Now, using the EMS PRO and the advanced Ranch System controller, I can check the water level in the canal and monitor engine performance through my cell phone. In addition, the system will send me an alert if the engine and pump parameters are exceeded. If the engine shuts down for any reason, the system will send a text message to our operating base by cell phone.” 

The Control System

Introduced in 2010, the compact engine controller is designed and built to meet the demands of any industrial engine-driven equipment application. Rugged and user-friendly, it is easily installed and able to support both mechanical and J1939 electronic engines. It can be used as a standalone control or part of a SCADA system.


Cahaba Media Group

See also:

Upstream Pumping

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