Managing irrigation – the modern way

Wednesday 4 October, 2017
Water Delivery Consultant William Hogan

Wayne wants to stop watering, Andrew wants to up his flow rate and Gary’s not quite sure what he wants because, he says, “it’s my wife who usually does the ordering”. After helping out these customers, William Hogan gets a computer alert to tell him his next incoming call is from Lee.

 “I used to go to school with this bloke,” William says before picking up and saying “G’day”. The pleasantries are short, however, as both men are busy – Lee is calling to run a quick test to ensure his on-farm irrigation equipment is working properly.

“You see, Lee has an order in for water to be delivered at 3am tomorrow morning,” William explains as he goes to work on his keyboard. “So today he wants to make sure his pipeline didn’t block up during the off-season.”

Following a few deft key strokes, William informs Lee that Water Outlet #2298 will open in five minutes and stay running for the next 15 so he can test his pipeline and sleep easy, knowing his overnight irrigation is all set to go.

William has been with Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) for just shy of 10 years, first as a trainee in construction and maintenance and then as a water bailiff working outdoors. For the last four years he has worked a desk as a Water Delivery Consultant and his “tools” are an array of computer screens – placing himself and his colleagues in control of one of the most sophisticated irrigation regions in the world.

“Here, we receive alerts when there’s a problem, place orders for our customers and keep track of how the whole system is running,” he said.

“My job has completely changed in a short time.”

Take, for example, William’s last call with his former school-mate Lee. A few years ago, before the channel serving Lee’s farm at Girgarre was modernised, water delivery would have required up to four days’ notice. Then a bailiff might have to drive to the property to manually remove bars from an old regulator (and it certainly wouldn’t be at 3am). As for the rate of water flow and availability, well that would depend on what the neighbours were doing.

Today Lee places an order online, by smart phone or in this case, via a quick phone call. William locates Lee’s modern, solar-powered water outlet on a digital map and issues it instructions on computer. To manage the demand of other customers, it may take 24 hours to deliver on an order. But sometimes, like in Lee’s case, it’s immediate.

The whole process takes only a few seconds.

“Of course some customers want to have a chat and don’t realise you have calls backing up, but that’s part of the job,” William says.

As for managing the demands of other customers, William must continually monitor channel capacity and sometimes take a proactive approach.  He points to a computer graph showing how a channel will near capacity later in the week so he picks up the phone to call “Brad”, who is happy to have his water delivery brought forward a day.

“You can’t make the channel any bigger so most people understand that we need to plan ahead and manage the system as best we can,” he said.

“But the job is weather dependent and some days are just going to be busy and there’s nothing you can do about it. A forecast for a light shower might end up dumping two inches of rain and everyone wants to shut off their water – right now!”

Fast facts

  • GMW has 28 Water Delivery Consultants looking after about 15,000 customers in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District
  • Water Delivery Consultants work 12-hour shifts on a four-day rotating roster. During the irrigation season, which runs from August 15 to May 15, Water Delivery Consultants are available 24/7 including public holidays
  • With modernisation of the system relatively new, most Water Delivery Consultants used to be bailiffs working in the field
  • Where possible, Water Delivery Consultants control the irrigation system in the same areas where they used to work as bailiffs. This ensures they are familiar with the channel structure and the customers who farm the area
  • William Hogan, for example, grew up on a dairy farm near Kyabram. His area of operation as a Water Delivery Consultant is the west side of the Central Goulburn Irrigation District, from Waranga Basin in the south, north to Echuca and from Stanhope to Merrigum