Smart Solutions

Rainwater Irrigation System

A local irrigation system that involves the collection and filtering of rainwater pumped to agricultural land using solar and wind-powered pumps.

Implemented inTomaszyn

Country : Poland

What’s the solution?

The irrigation system involves the collection of rainwater and runoff water from the land, which is filtered and stored in storage tanks.

Solar and wind power is harnessed and stored in order to power the filtration and pumping system, with the water distributed according to need to agricultural fields and greenhouses in the village.

What makes it smart?

The solution is smart because it uses modern technologies to make full use of renewable sources of both water and energy in order to provide for more resilient agricultural activity.

The solution only requires the initial investment in the installation of the system before it is able to support local economic activity without additional costs (beyond ongoing maintenance) and in ways that are totally independent of the main electricity and water supplies (local self-sufficiency).

More specifically, the system:

  • uses solar panels to harness renewable solar energy to power the whole irrigation system.
  • uses the collection and filtering of rainwater and runoff water to provide a free and clean source of water.

The solution also works well with the introduction of further innovations, including small-scale and low-tech innovations. For example, in Tomaszyn, the system was supported by the installation of pots made of porous, self-permeable clay buried in the ground and filled with collected water to provide for a kind of precision irrigation system. Plant roots naturally grow towards the clay pots and are able to naturally extract the water they need.

How is the solution implemented?

  • Engage the local community in the potential benefits of a sustainable rainwater-based irrigation system – potentially through an agricultural cooperative where possible.
  • Explore the potential for local investment in this solution that will deliver long-term cost savings
  • Seek a motivated water engineer with experience of local irrigation systems
  • Design the local system and think about how to take advantage of the natural geography of the land
  • Think also about what further nature-based solutions (e.g. natural filtration, ceramic irrigation pots) could be added to make the system as efficient as possible
  • Seek funding support to cover the initial installation costs
  • Contract a building company to install the system
  • Ensure there is a local agreement in place for how the system will be maintained over time

In what local context has it been applied?

Tomaszyn is a small village of around ten households located in Warmia and Mazury, part of a region known as the ‘Green Lungs’ of Poland – and area which has the lowest population density in the country.

The village had been a relatively prosperous farming village for many centuries, but over time the population shrank – reaching the lowest point in 2017, with only four farms and some second homes.

A year later, the Cooperative Ostoja Natury was formed in Tomaszyn aiming to introduce the ‘agricultural ecosystem of tomorrow’, including a closed circuit organic farm in which waste is used as fuel, producing energy and enabling year-round food production. The village was inspired by nature’s already existing solutions, where the circuit is everything and waste is non-existent.

Who was behind the implementation?

The initiative has been fully planned and implemented by the Ostoja Natury agricultural production cooperative. The cooperative had 22 members as of June 2020.

What was the local journey?

  • The Ostoja Natury agricultural production cooperative (led by the CEO) started to plan a new irrigation system for the village’s productive agricultural land in 2019.
  • It decided to implement the new system on a pilot area of 2 hectares in the vicinity of the main building of the cooperative
  • A water engineering expert, specialised in the construction of passive irrigation systems was invited to improve the design of the irrigation system to make it more sustainable and efficient, delivering water only when needed.
  • This led to the introduction into the design of ceramic pots to be placed in the ground at key locations. These are occasionally filled with filtered rainwater to provide a completely passive watering device for plants and vegetables in the surrounding soil.
  • The water engineering expert also oversaw the installation of the water tanks and pipes in the pilot area. The actual work was carried out by a building company, which was contracted to dig and install the pipes and other elements, including a main tank of 15000 litres capacity and several smaller standing and buried rainwater tanks.
  • The next step was to install a solar-powered electricity pump with fertigation capacity, to distribute water in the pilot area (field, foiled greenhouse, flower beds)
  • The first planting of crops and vegetables to be watered using the new system took place both in the fields and in a greenhouse within the pilot area.
  • The ongoing operation of the system requires only regular maintenance and managing the water flow according to the needs of the agricultural production.

What have been the main outputs & results?

The irrigation system has been set-up and is fully functional. It collects rainwater as well as runoff from roofs and grey water, filters it and distributes it in the irrigation system to the 2 hectare pilot plot of productive agricultural land using a solar-powered pump.

  • The system has a capacity of around 45 000 litres of rainwater per month, and the recovery of up to 30000 litres of grey water per month.
  • The whole system has very low maintenance cost, delivering long-term cost-savings from the lack of need to pay for mainstream supply of water or electricity (more than offsetting the the initial investment)

What does it bring the village/community?

The system provides an environmentally friendly and cost-effective system for improving the resilience of local agricultural production in the village independent from the mains water and electricity systems. The local economic activity is therefore resistant to climate change and the potential threats of both future water shortages or energy price increases.

The solution also has the potential to support local job creation in expanded agricultural production.

What’s needed

Financial resources

Main types of cost:

Planning and design of the whole system

Installation and construction of the irrigation system for an area of 2 hectares.

In terms of ongoing costs, the irrigation system is powered by solar panels and uses free water sources, so the only running costs of the system are the ongoing and regular maintenance of the system by the members of the cooperative..

Financial needs:

Set-up costs: about 40 000€

• About 10 000€ for the planning and design of the whole system

• About 30 000€ for the installation and construction of the irrigation system.

Funding received:
Ostoja Natury cooperative40,000 €Planning of the whole system, plus installation and construction

Human resources

• Water engineering expert

• Building company to install the tanks and other elements of the system (small amount of people)

Physical resources

• Agricultural land.

• Machinery for digging and installing water tanks and pumps

What to do…

  • Consider forming a local agricultural cooperative if one does not exist, so that the solution can be most effectively developed at the most appropriate scale.
  • Plan well (this is crucially important), to fulfil real needs and capacity of the ‘investors’
  • Use Nature Based Solutions (hydrography, gravity, geography of the land).
  • Make it as simple as possible, to diminish the number of technical elements that can break down.

and not to do

  • Don’t oversize and attempt to irrigate too large an area. Be realistic.
  • Don’t attempt to build the irrigation system without a very precise plan.

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