Butter Creek Project
Eastern Oregon

Energy-efficient irrigation solution provides cost savings to commercial farms for this irrigation project.

Project: Butter Creek Eastern Oregon
State: Oregon
Pipe Type: Continuous Wound FRP
Length (ft): 44, 294
Diameter: 40"
Pressure (PN): 16
PSI: 232
Installation Type: Open Cut
Use: High Pressure Irrigation

Oregon, USA, has some of the most fertile food-producing areas in the world because of its unique blend of climate, land, and soil. Essential to the state’s agricultural boom is the irrigation systems that feed the crops. IRZ Consulting and Engineering and Infrastructure Solutions International recently supplied two major food producers in the region with a modern, energy-efficient fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) irrigation solution that provided significant cost savings to their clients.

The importance of irrigation systems when producing food on dry land 

Oregon is home to a booming agricultural industry, with the state’s large commercial farms feeding populations globally. 

The rich sandy loam soil of the area makes it one of the most productive areas in the world to grow a diverse range of crops, including high-yielding potato crops, corn, peas, carrots, apples, peaches, cherries, wheat, alfalfa, onions and more. In fact, if you’ve ever had McDonald’s fries, it’s likely that you’ve sampled the region’s potatoes. 

While the volcanic soils of the region, combined with a long growing season, produce large quantities of fruits and vegetables, the area doesn’t get a lot of rainfall, with some counties receiving less than 10 inches of moisture each year. 

This means irrigation systems are integral to the region’s farms’ ability to produce a reliable and sustainable supply of food. 

Based in Hermiston, Oregon, IRZ Consulting and Engineering has been providing turnkey mechanized irrigation solutions to farms in the area for over 35 years. In 2011, the company was purchased by global mechanized irrigation provider Lindsay Corporation and has since completed irrigation projects all over the world. 

IRZ President Fred Ziari says “The average irrigation farm size in Oregon is 5,000 acres, but we have a lot that are 10,000 or more acres per farm. So we have very large-scale commercial farming, and the area is very advanced as far as irrigation is concerned.” 

He explains that mechanized, center pivot irrigation systems supply approximately 2 million acres of farming land in Oregon. 

Choosing the right pipe for the job: fiberglass-reinforced plastic or steel 

In 2019, IRZ was contracted by a large corporate farm to install large diameter, high-pressure irrigation pipeline systems to pump water from the Columbia and Snake rivers to prime farmland for growing potatoes and onions. 

The irrigation solutions provided needed to be reliable, efficient, and sustainable. Water security and efficiency of irrigation systems are one of the most commonly reported material management issues for commercial farmers. 

IRZ launched a competitive bid process to find a pipe supplier. Both steel and fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) pipe solutions were proposed as part of the tender process. 

Both of the pipe options presented pros and cons. 

Steel pipe had been commonly used in the region for high-pressure irrigation projects and was locally made. 

Ziari says “We have completed over 2,000 irrigation system designs all over the world, from Africa to Australia and New Zealand, to all over the United States and western Europe. Traditionally, for large diameter pipe projects, we’ve used steel pipe, or large PVC or HDPE pipe. But we started looking at FRP when we were completing a project in Sudan about six years ago. There, we used FRP with great results.” 

When Ziari reviewed the bids for pipe supply for the Oregon project, he found that FRP pipe had two main advantages over steel pipe for the project. 

The first was a big price advantage. 

“In some cases, it was about 30 per cent cheaper than alternatives,” he says. 

Ziari explains that the cost of installing FRP pipe is much lower than steel because no welding is required during the construction process. Instead, FRP pipe has gasketed, ‘push-to-fit’ joints.  

“It is a lot easier to install compared to steel pipe because welding isn’t required, and when you are dealing with large diameters, welding can be difficult. With FRP, it is mainly gasketed, so it is joined together like PVC pipe.”

“The cost savings for us came to millions of dollars compared to steel pipe. When you go to a large scale project, up to 1.2 meter diameter or more, it becomes very expensive. The installation is expensive and the pipe material is expensive,” says Ziari. 

“But FRP pipe must be handled with care. You have to make sure it is bedded the right way, and it needs to be installed and handled much more carefully than when you are dealing with steel pipe.”

Once installed properly, FRP’s overall lifetime cost is also cheaper than steel pipelines as it doesn’t require costly cathodic protection systems to protect the pipe from corrosion. It also has a longer design life of up to 100 years. 

The second advantage was the energy-efficient properties of the FRP pipe. 

Ziari says “It is very energy efficient because the inner pipe wall is smooth, so there isn’t as much friction loss as with steel pipe. Most people are familiar with PVC pipe – FRP is like PVC but can handle higher pressures, which is what we required for these projects. You can use FRP with any pressure class basically. This gave it a big advantage over other types of pipe.

“The fact that we were able to install it economically, and it is energy efficient during operation, was very important to our clients.” 

Sourcing FRP pipe 

FRP pipe was sourced from Infrastructure Solutions International (ISI), an Australian-based company with dedicated personnel focussed on supplying materials for major construction projects.

This meant that the project took on a truly international scope. In Melbourne, ISI’s Andy Holman sourced pipe to meet the projects’ needs, which came from the Middle East and was then shipped to Oregon. On top of this, the pipe supply timeline happened in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which challenged supply chains worldwide. 

Ziari says “Working in between the different time zones, we collaborated very well together. Andy is a very nice person to work with…this year, we’ve had many projects where we’ve worked with Andy and chosen to use FRP.”

“We chose to work with Andy again on these projects via a competitive bid process,” Ziari says. “We selected based on price and serviceability. Andy was competitive against steel and other FRP pipe suppliers.

Following the successful delivery of FRP pipe, IRZ installed 8.5 miles (13.6 km) of 36 inch (DN900) high-pressure FRP pipe mostly designed in PN16 to pump water from the Columbia and Snake rivers as they flow toward the Pacific Ocean, to onion and potato crops. 

Pressure PN16 is suitable for high loads and commonly used for industrial water, wastewater, and stormwater applications. 

The results 

The project was completed in May 2020, and Ziari says that the feedback on pipeline performance from the commercial farm has been good. 

“When you install irrigation pipelines, you expect there to be a few leaks, but the performance of the FRP pipe has been very good, we’ve had very few leaks. The farm has been really happy and some of them have reordered pipe and projects with us.” 

Ziari says that using FRP pipe is becoming increasingly popular as farmers become more aware of the advantages of using the pipe material for irrigation systems. 

“FRP pipe is going to be used a lot more in the future. At the moment, it’s something that lots of farmers are not familiar with. Based on our good experiences, we will continue to use FRP pipe for large-diameter projects, and will try to educate others on the benefits of FRP.” 

Ziari’s colleague IRZ Director Wayne Downey explains that FRP “is a really cost-effective alternative to steel and PVC. The irrigation market is just now becoming aware of the benefits of FRP.”