Management Recommendations for Irrigation Equipment Affected by Flooding

Flooded center pivot east of Schuyler (Photo by Aaron Nygren)
Flooded center pivot east of Schuyler (Photo by Aaron Nygren)

Management Recommendations for Irrigation Equipment Affected by Flooding

With the recent widespread flooding, many irrigation systems across the state have been affected by flooding. As waters drain and soils dry out, part of the recovery process will include checking irrigation systems for damage and performing maintenance/repair before those systems can be used.

Above all else, staying safe is critical, so make sure that electricity is shut off when inspecting electrical components. Double check to confirm that power is off and that it cannot be restored prior to completion of the inspection/repair work.

It is advised to contact your local well or pivot company service technician to get your systems inspected, as damage may have occurred and more damage could be caused by operating the system. Depending on the water level, inspection and maintenance might be needed for the power unit, irrigation well, and center pivot. Listed below are areas to look at with each of these components.

Power Unit

If water reached the power unit, maintenance is needed before operating the system. Do not attempt to start the electric motor until it has completely dried out or damage may occur. This may require the motor being removed and brought into the shop and disassembled to make sure everything is OK, so it is recommended to check with your pump company. Once dry, it is advised to drain the oil and replace. In addition, be sure to grease the motor bearings by removing the relief plug and adding grease until old grease is expelled.

If the water completely submerged the internal combustion engine, it will require major servicing which should be performed as quickly as possible and may require a complete rebuild. This will include draining and replacing the oil, pulling injectors or spark plugs to make sure no water is in the cylinders before turning over the engine, and replacing all filters. Electrical systems may be damaged and need repair or replacement. Also, check the fuel system for water and drain if water is present.

Irrigation Well

Once the power unit is inspected, the next concern is if the well had contamination or debris go down the column. This is of more concern if the system had an open discharge pipe such as a gravity irrigation system. Wells with proper functioning backflow valves should be less likely to have contamination or debris. If debris is possible, make sure the pump turns freely before operation or damage may occur to the impellers.

Once the power unit is operable, it may be helpful to start up wells that were flooded to pump contaminates out. As a precaution, you may choose to shock chlorinate the well to kill any bacteria that might be present. (For more information see Restoring a Flooded Well to Service.)

Well gearheads are usually sealed well, but it is still advised to drain the oil, flush if possible, and refill with new oil.

Center Pivot

The main components to check on center pivots are the wheel and center drive gearboxes, center drive motors on electric drive pivots, tower boxes if the water reached them, and the pivot panel. Hydraulic drive pivots would still need the wheel gearboxes checked, but the hydraulic system should be OK unless the pump and/or oil reservoir were submerged.

With gearboxes, drain any water present. If the oil appears contaminated, drain and refill with new oil. The center drive motors should be inspected to make sure they are dry and free of debris, which may require removing the stator housing from the motors.

If water reached the pivot panel and/or the tower boxes, it is recommended to have a service technician or electrician inspect them. Be sure to let them dry out completely before servicing. Both basic and computer panels may operate after drying out and cleaning, but often they will need to be replaced.