Jeff Ciudaj is an inventor with a passion for problem solving. With the state of California in its fourth year of drought, Ciudaj says his modified irrigation system can save up to 50 percent of water usage.
“There is more and more demand for water and we keep expecting to keep meeting the demand the same way. Do we get smarter or do we keep fighting over water?” he said.
Deep Root Irrigation (DRI-12) works by delivering water to the roots of the plant, as opposed to traditional drip and surface watering systems, where a certain percentage of water is lost to evaporation and run-off.
“I’ve always looked at the standard drip irrigation as if the inventor walked away from the job before it was finished and left the water running. I’m astonished to see how much water is continually being wasted,” Ciudaj said.
The system is simple. A quarter-inch line is connected to an existing emitter and its shroud, made of recycled tires, is poked into the ground near the plant’s roots. Water flows down through the line, saturating the shroud and the area around it. When the shroud is saturated it creates a back pressure, which slows down supply to the line. Only as much water as the ground needs is fed through the system.
The shrouds vary in sizes, from three to 18 inches, for potted plants, landscaping, vineyards and orchards.
The system has been field-tested for three years with measurable results. In 2011, Ciudaj tested the system on 100 vines in a vineyard near St. Helena, side by side with a traditional irrigation system.
“In that first year we crossed our fingers and hoped we wouldn’t kill any vines,” Ciudaj said. “Not only does it not kill vines, everything took off.”
The system was also tested at a vineyard in Mount Veder, with a 36.6 percent reduction in water flow. It is currently undergoing stricter scientific study, in Angwin, the results of which will be available next month.
Garret Buckland, a partner at Premiere Viticulture Services, and vice-president of the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association, said that although replacing irrigation lines is labor-intensive, “as a retrofit (this system) might have value.” He added that there are measuring and monitoring tools, that if integrated into the initial irrigation model, offer better overall control.
About 15 vineyards in Napa have already adapted to the DRI-12 system, including Carneros Estate, makers of Talcott Olive Oil, who are using the lines for their olive trees.
Ciudaj, who lives in Pope Valley, said he came up with the idea for DRI-12 about 20 years ago, but has been preoccupied for years trying to get a desalination project off the ground. It’s a simple process, he says, that involves no filters, no energy and creates no brine. Ciudaj describes it as a convection process that moves the surface air that creates the saltwater in the first place. He has been working with Scripps Laboratory and the Navy is interested, however “it’s a huge project that involves a lot of regulatory agencies and red tape.”
As for DRI-12, he said, “We’re excited to be part of something that solves a problem for our friends and neighbors.” For more information go to drisystem.com.