Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Interview

In-Situ’s Flow Meters: A Practical Choice for Farmers and Irrigators

Founded 40 years ago and originally focused on water level measurement for the mining industry, the Fort Collins, Colorado-based company In-Situ has recently moved decisively into the fields of flow monitoring and water quality solutions for industrial, agricultural, wastewater, and storm water clients. Recent research and development work and strategic acquisitions, including that of the Australian company MACE, have filled out In-Situ’s array of ultrasonic flow meters, data loggers, and controllers. In-Situ’s MACE flow meters and Doppler A/V sensors are particularly promising as practical alternatives to mag meters for farmers and irrigation managers.

Timothy Hicks is a flow expert who recently became a business development manager for agriculture at In-Situ. In this interview with Irrigation Leader, Mr. Hicks discusses the advantages of In-Situ’s flow meters for agricultural customers.

Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.

Timothy Hicks: I’m an engineer by training. I grew up in Canada and moved to Seattle to work in the Alaskan fishing industry. After that, I got a master of business administration at Seattle University and took a job as head of marketing for a supplier to the heavy-duty trucking industry. I then worked in business consulting for 11 years, after which I started and ran FlowWorks, a municipal data management company, for 5 years. After that, I did municipal flow monitoring for 5 years, first with Hach and then with ADS. I joined In-Situ in July 2019.

Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about In-Situ and its history. 

Timothy Hicks: The company started off in Laramie, Wyoming, as an engineering firm and did a lot of work for mining companies, including groundwater monitoring. As part of that, it started building its own groundwater monitoring equipment and introduced the first in-well water level data logger. More than 10 years ago, the company moved to Fort Collins, where it continues to thrive and build a global presence in the groundwater, surface water, water flow and process markets.

A Doppler insert sensor.

Irrigation Leader: In-Situ recently acquired the Australian company MACE. Would you tell us about that company? 

Timothy Hicks: MACE is a flow-monitoring instrumentation company that has been in business since 1968. In-Situ purchased MACE in 2017 and has been working with its small but strong engineering team to upgrade its equipment. We’re also bringing In-Situ’s outstanding service model to the MACE product line. In-Situ manufactures its equipment in the United States, and eventually MACE equipment will be built in the United States as well. 

Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about In-Situ’s top products and what the company is doing now. 

Timothy Hicks: In-Situ has three product lines other than flow. One is groundwater monitoring equipment, which is a series of sensors that go down into well bores. At their most basic, the sensors monitor groundwater levels and can be used to deduce the flow and volume available in a well. The second is a line of surface water monitoring equipment for spot sampling and continuous monitoring of a wide range of parameters. These units are also designed to fit down a well. They are less than 2 inches in diameter, about 18 inches long, and can monitor up to 4 different parameters. These products help a lot of people, including farmers and irrigation district managers, to understand what chemicals are in their supply and discharge water. In-Situ also recently acquired ChemScan, which manufactures a popular line of equipment: process analyzers. These are online, continuous-flow chemical analyzers that are used in industrial and wastewater treatment plants. In addition, In-Situ has developed industry-leading software for viewing, storing, managing, and sharing monitoring data, and we will soon debut a next-generation cellular and satellite telemetry device. 

Irrigation Leader: What trends in the industry is your company preparing for? 

Timothy Hicks: Water conservation is giant. We are coming to the end of our free and open water resources. While there is often a fair bit of grumbling, folks are slowly coming to terms with the fact that we will have to conserve and share. That’s one of the things that attracted me to In-Situ: Our devices allow irrigation managers and farmers to get a handle on the amount of water they’re using. There have always been electromagnetic flow meters, also known as mag meters, but they’re expensive. Our solution costs a lot less. It is a practical way for farmers and irrigation managers to retrofit their existing systems and get a handle on their flow volumes. 

Irrigation Leader: How does your technology differ from a mag meter? 

Timothy Hicks: A mag meter is a flanged section of pipe fitted with four sensors around its perimeter that is installed in an existing pipe. These meters are heavy, so you may need to install a structure to support them. The meters

A Doppler insert sensor installed in a pipe.

themselves are expensive, and the installation process is time consuming. Our meters, by contrast, go into a 2-inch pipe coupling that’s installed on the outside of a pipe. They can be installed on a plastic, steel, or concrete pipe. The MACE meter costs about half as much as a mag meter to buy and install and can be installed with hand tools. Managers and farmers are getting great results with it. One irrigation manager told me he went from using an average of 6 acre-feet of water per growing season to 2½. He credits MACE meters and the visibility that they’ve given him for that change. Other things had to be done, too, but it started with putting in meters and figuring out where water was going, where it was being wasted, and which farmers were using more than they needed to. A measuring and monitoring program combined with an education program and some financial incentives cut his water use significantly.

Irrigation Leader: What is the price range for these meters?

Timothy Hicks: Our meters come ready to install and cost between $4,500 and $6,500, depending on power and communication requirements. Installation involves digging down to the pipe, but once that’s done, installation only takes a couple of hours. The telemetry system, which pushes data to a data platform, is easy to set up. A solar panel can be added to create a complete off-the-grid system.

Irrigation Leader: What is your message to irrigators? What should they know about In-Situ? 

Timothy Hicks: MACE meters are a practical, sensible solution for measuring irrigation water flows. Water flow is one of the few things that can’t be measured directly: You have to measure velocity and then use the area of the pipe or channel to calculate flow. MACE meters use the Doppler principle to directly measure average water velocity to calculate flow. The result is a relatively inexpensive, practical solution for doing something difficult. It can be an effective starting point for getting a handle on your water use and reducing costs. 

Timothy Hicks is a business development manager for agriculture at In-Situ. He can be contacted at tshicks@in-situ.com.