Award finalist focuses on irrigation ‘hot spots’

Congratulations to Saud Akbar (left), DPI Irrigation Engineer
Congratulations to Saud Akbar (left), Irrigation Engineer, who is part of team announced as finalists in the "Water Research and Innovation" category of the 2007 Eureka Awards. This year's award winners will be announced on 21 August.

A fascination with water leaks in irrigation channels has earned a NSW Department of Primary Industries irrigation engineer, Saud Akbar, a place on a research team selected as finalists in the 2007 Eureka Prizes.

This year the Eurekas, which are run by the Australian Museum, include a category for excellence in Water Research and Innovation.

Mr Akbar is a member of a team led by Professor Shahbaz Khan from CSIRO and Charles Stuart University which has been selected as a finalist for their work on understanding water, nutrient and salt budgets in the Murrumbidgee River catchment.

This was the first such assessment for any catchment in Australia, and is regarded as a critical prerequisite to saving water and increasing efficient water management for irrigated agriculture.

Mr Akbar said that in the Murrumbidgee catchments there are more than 700 kilometres of irrigation supply channels.

In 1996, when he first started work in the area he remarked to many farmers that they were losing water through seepage.

"Back then, nobody was worried about seepage. But it was a different matter when water allocations came in", he said.

Mr Akbar’s research focused on identifying ‘hot spots’ in irrigation channels.

"’Hot spots’ are just like leaky sinks", he said.

"The layers of soil in these areas are often sandy, or a sandy loam. The water just disappears down them."

The aim of research was to reduce water loss by quantifying the amount of seepage from irrigation channels. This involved measuring losses, determining what action to take and making decisions about what will be cost effective.

The research team as a whole undertook a full audit of water flows through the irrigation channels in the catchment and developed innovative technology to rapidly detect channel seepage ‘hotspots’.

The work allows a better understanding of irrigation water use, highlighting problem areas and targeting actions.

The Eureka award winners will be announced in Sydney on 21 August  2007.