CIT celebrates 40 years

After 40 years of irrigation technology testing and innovation, the Center for Irrigation Technology is just getting started.
BY CHARLES HILLYER, PhD, & KATE NORUM
CIT celebrates 40 years

In 2020, the Center for Irrigation Technology in Fresno, California, celebrates its 40th anniversary. Looking back on four decades of irrigation innovation, it is interesting to revisit the pioneering history and major milestones and events that have shaped what CIT is today, while taking a look at what is ahead in the future.

Edward Norum and David Zoldoske inspect solar panels at the testing site.

In 1969, an effort began with the goal of creating a national sprinkler test facility that utilized uniform testing procedures and published performance data. CIT was formally organized in April 1980 but can trace its sprinkler and equipment testing roots back over 80 years to pioneering work done by Winston Strong, EdD, who taught in the plant science and mechanized agriculture department for 34 years. In 1953, Strong established the Sprinkler Test Station at what was then known as Fresno State College, using the site of the future CIT labs to set out catchments to test sprinkler performance.

Today, CIT is built on a foundation of innovation and technology transfer focusing on testing, applied research and entrepreneurship to support developing and deploying technologies that will bring the world the most innovative products and resource management tools.

The control room of the CIT Sprinkler Testing Laboratory

CIT has 18,000 square feet of indoor lab space dedicated to testing a wide range of equipment including sprinklers, pumps, valves, filters, piping materials, controllers, drip emitters and tapes, and couplers. Each new facility was a milestone that resulted in significant expansions in CIT’s laboratory and field services to provide independent third-party testing data on a range of technologies that can be instrumental in improving product and system performance.

 


1940

Winston Strong, EdD, began his sprinkler and equipment testing work when he came to Fresno State as a new faculty member in 1940. CIT benefited greatly from his reputation and pioneering work characterizing water distribution patterns for a variety of sprinklers over a range of pressures. The contributions of Strong were recognized worldwide.


1953

Sprinkler Test Station is established by Winston Strong at what was then known as Fresno State College.

 

 

 


1980

Center for Irrigation Technology is formally organized at California State University, Fresno. Edward Norum, PE, is named director.

 

 

 


1983

Sprinkler Testing Laboratory is designed to provide a state-of-the-art facility for defining the sprinkler’s radial deposition pattern.

 

 

 


1988

SPACE (Sprinkler Pattern and Coverage Evaluation) is developed by Joe Oliphant. This software calculated densograms and developed and helped popularize the new scheduling coefficients based on critical contiguous area.

 

 

Fresno State dedicates a 7-acre portion of the farmland to CIT to use for demonstration and research purposes.

Hydraulics and Irrigation System Components Testing Laboratory (1,800 square-foot PG&E building) added to CIT’s testing capabilities.

 

 


1996

CIT receives the Roy Williams Memorial award from the American Society of Irrigation Consultants, in recognition of the CIT’s establishment and operation of an independent testing laboratory for irrigation equipment.


1998

CIT establishes Wateright, the first of its kind irrigation scheduling website for California. This web-based program provides accurate estimates of irrigation scheduling times and water application amounts for agriculture, homeowner and commercial turf irrigators.


2000

CIT develops a testing protocol to evaluate the plugging susceptibility of drip emitters by inorganic particulates.


2001

CIT secures a key, long-term partnership between Fresno State and the California Public Utilities Commission. The ongoing Advanced Pumping Efficiency Program (APEP, formerly Ag Pumping Efficiency Program) is managed by CIT for Pacific Gas and Electric Company. APEP is the longest running project at CIT providing educational seminars, subsidized pump efficiency tests and pump repair/retrofit rebates.


2006

CIT begins using three mobile education centers, known as MECs, that travel the length of California to promote energy efficiency in water pumping and backflow safety.

 

 

 


2007

The Water, Energy and Technology Center, known as the WET Center, is completed adding 9,000 square feet to expand CIT’s hydraulics testing capabilities. The WET Center also includes 4,000 square feet of space providing entrepreneurs with incubation and business support services, the Valley Ventures Accelerator, and office and meeting space.


2015-16

The Fresno State farm is developed into the University Agricultural Laboratory, a model demonstration farm with new projects, including a buried drip system installed on young almond trees; a low pressure/energy system used in field crops, and a closed-loop irrigation water/energy management system.


2016-present

Funding from the California Energy Commission and the U.S. Economic Development Administration is helping CIT fulfill its mission to bring the most innovative products and resource management tools to the world. CIT is working closely with the WET Center to provide entrepreneurs and innovators with technical assistance, product research and development.


The next 40 years

Having just looked at where CIT has been, you might be wondering where CIT is going. First and foremost, CIT will continue doing what it has always done: advancing water/energy management practices and efficient irrigation technology. We will continue serving as an independent third-party testing service for the irrigation industry. We will continue to conduct applied research and education at Fresno State and throughout California and to support entrepreneurs in California. In addition to all those things, CIT has a new focus that will expand over the coming years.

Automation and remote control are becoming commonplace in irrigation systems. Pivots have had this functionality for decades, and now automation is seeing increasing adoption in drip and microsprinkler systems. Virtually every sensor for soil moisture, crop water status and weather stations has some sort of telemetry option. Having both sensing and actuation fully remote controlled opens up system integration opportunities that were not easy previously.

One important opportunity for innovation is irrigation management. Management has always been the biggest determinant of irrigation efficiency, and irrigation scheduling has a substantial positive impact on water use efficiency in both agriculture and landscape irrigation. But, actually doing irrigation scheduling has been difficult. Collecting, transforming and using the data to support scheduling has been burdensome and was a strong disincentive to adoption.

Over the past several years, manufacturers have released irrigation system control software that includes irrigation scheduling as a feature of the overall system. This is an exciting development. A fully integrated system, where decision support is part of the integration, addresses the burden of doing irrigation scheduling and has the potential to improve water management. However, alongside this opportunity there is also concern. The algorithms and calculations for generating irrigation schedules can be complex. Growers and other water users may not have the time or access necessary to verify that the irrigation schedule will result in the desired outcome. Growers must trust that the software works as expected. Manufacturers work hard to earn that trust. Growers value this trust significantly, but establishing the trust takes time.

Establishing this kind of trust has been done in the past. Over its 40-year history, CIT has worked with manufacturers and standards bodies to develop testing protocols for drip tape, valves, sprinklers and landscape irrigation controllers. For users, these tests help to establish trust in the products they buy. CIT has begun working on a new testing service that will build that same kind of trust for irrigation scheduling. The fundamental challenge for this service is twofold. First, the test must give users confidence that the software will not produce harmful results. Second, the test must not limit or impinge on manufacturers’ freedom to innovate and differentiate their products.

Development of this testing service is still in its early stages, and the specific details are yet to be defined. CIT is seeking input and collaboration from all stakeholders who are interested. If you would like to get involved, please reach out to us at www.fresnostate.edu/jcast/cit/ or contact us directly at hillyer@csufresno.edu.

Charles Hillyer, PhD, is the director of the Center for Irrigation Technology.
Kate Norum is a project manager at the Center for Irrigation Technology.
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