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Teaching canal hydraulics and control using a computer game or a scale model canal

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Pierre-Olivier Malaterre, David C. Rogers
Pierre-Olivier MALATERRE (corresponding author) Address: Cemagref, 361, rue JF Breton – BP 5095 – 34196 MONTPELLIER Cedex 5 – France Phone : + 33 (0) 4 67 04 63 56 Fax : + 33 (0) 4 67 16 64 40 Email : David C. ROGERS Address: Rogers Engineering Hydraulics, Inc. 2650 Tabor St, Lakewood CO 80215, USA Email:

Keyword(s): canal, control, game, training, model, irrigation, teaching, hands-on, international
AbstractModernization of the hydraulic regulation of irrigation canals is a proven method to increase the global hydraulic efficiency of irrigation projects. Modernization can improve the quality of service to water users and can protect the infrastructure during emergencies such as heavy rainstorms. Different surveys carried out in the USA, France, and Australia have confirmed the value of irrigation project modernization and have promoted such modernization projects. Even though some irrigation canals have been operating for hundreds or thousands of years, canal control methods have changed dramatically during the last few decades. The introduction of sensors, motorized gates, SCADA systems, and computers, combined with advances in hydraulics and control engineering, has allowed new automatic control techniques such as distant downstream controllers or centralized controllers. Even more classical local upstream controllers can be improved to become more efficient and flexible using digital technologies. Most new large irrigation canals are now designed and built using modern technologies allowing advanced control procedures. But more than 90% of the irrigation canals in the world are still using traditional technologies and operation principles. One of the reasons for this discrepancy is the lack of engineers skilled in this new domain, and the reluctance of canal managers to change to an unfamiliar system with new technologies and new operation and maintenance procedures. Some research and development institutes have built knowledge and experience in this specific domain of the regulation of irrigation canals, or more widely in the regulation of open channel hydraulic systems. This includes knowledge and experience in hydraulics, control engineering and adapted technologies. Cemagref in France and the Bureau of Reclamation in the USA are two of these institutes. Besides their research and consultant activities, these organizations build teaching packages that target students in civil, hydraulic or control engineering, canal managers and operators, and other professionals. These packages include computer games and hands-on activities on model canals. These methods have been used routinely for several years and will be described in this paper. Cemagref has designed an interactive computer game allowing students to manipulate gates in order to stabilize water levels in an irrigation canal following what is called a distant downstream regulation framework. It is included in a larger teaching package spread over one to five days. This game uses the SIC hydrodynamic software developed by Cemagref in Montpellier. It has been used for teaching sessions for at least three engineering schools with French and foreign students and for canal managers of the Office du Niger in Mali. Previously, Cemagref organized similar capacity-building sessions in hydraulic modelling and canal regulation in Sri Lanka, Mexico, Mauritius Island, and Morocco. The Bureau of Reclamation has constructed a 300-foot-long model canal its hydraulics laboratory in Denver, Colorado. This canal is used during a 5-day course on canal operation and control. The targeted audience is canal operators, water masters, engineers and other technical staff. Classes are held annually for participants from the USA, and an international class is organized about every 3 years. The model canal was designed specifically to provide training through “hands-on” workshops where students experience different canal operating techniques and control methods. Both experiences have the objective to train people in the domain of hydraulics and control for irrigation canals, hoping this will facilitate the introduction of new methods and technologies to operating projects.
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