Debris can get into an irrigation system in any number of ways—through intakes that are open to the rivers they draw from or through open canals—but it always causes a headache for irrigation districts and the farmers they serve. After being plagued with debris in its system for many years, Sargent Irrigation District in central Nebraska turned to the experts at International Water Screens to solve its problems. With nearly 30 years of experience, the International Water Screens team helped Sargent Irrigation District select and install self-cleaning, traveling water screens to meet its specific needs. In an interview with Kris Polly, editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine, Matt Lukasiewicz, general manager at Sargent Irrigation District, spoke about the solution and the benefits it has brought to him and his district’s water users

[siteorigin_widget class=”SiteOrigin_Widget_Headline_Widget”][/siteorigin_widget]

Kris Polly: How long have you been the manager of Sargent Irrigation District?

Matt Lukasiewicz: I have been at the district for 71/2 years. I spent 2 1/2 years as assistant general manager for Tom Knutson. Since his retirement, I have been a general manager.

Kris Polly: Please tell us a little about Sargent Irrigation District.

Matt Lukasiewicz: We have a direct flow permit that allows us to divert up to 260 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from the Middle Loup River, which we use to irrigate 14,287 acres of land. We have 40 miles of open canal irrigation and about 44 miles of buried laterals.

Kris Polly: How do you use the products from International Water Screens?

Matt Lukasiewicz: We started using the company’s water screens about 4 years ago. We decided to start using them because of the trash entering our system via the direct flow from the river. We have some trash racks along the way that catch larger debris, but the smaller stuff still gets by. Toward the end of the bottom third of the canal system, the debris started to become more concentrated. With over half of our irrigation district being covered in center-point pivots, a lot of the pivot screen systems were getting clogged. We knew we needed to do something about it.

One year, when we were at the Irrigation Leader Operations and Management Workshop, we visited with International Water Screens about the issue we had. While we knew we had more of an issue upstream with larger debris, we wanted to start on a small scale toward the bottom where we were having a lot of the issues. Fortunately, the company was able to help us.

The screen we installed is set to handle a maximum of 70 cfs for the particular area of the canal where it is going to be placed. When we first start to run water through the system, we will operate the screen continuously until the trash from over the winter is gone. In the summer, when our water flows are around 10–20 cfs, we will have it run every 30 minutes. If we have flows of about 25–40 cfs, we will use the screen every 15 minutes, and every 10 minutes when we have a flow of 40–70 cfs.

When we installed the screen, we had a local contractor construct all the concrete around the structure to International Water Screens’ specifications. The installation of the screen was easy—the screen was simply lowered in. It sits in on its weight and does not require bolts, which makes it easy to install and remove.

So far, it has been a success. The farmers are very, very happy. They went from cleaning the trash screens in their pivots four to six times a day to cleaning them only once every couple of rotations.

Removing large debris from our trash racks has become more of a safety issue for us. Even when it is dark, our ditch riders are out pulling logs and large items from our trash racks by hand. We are looking at installing a couple more screens upstream to improve this safety issue.

Kris Polly: What kinds of items can these screens remove?

Matt Lukasiewicz: To my knowledge, anything we can throw at them will be removed. We have seen an example of a deer that got into a canal, and the screen was strong and durable enough to catch it.

Kris Polly: In addition to cleaning out the trash, does it also keep fish out of your canals?

Matt Lukasiewicz: Yes. The screen mesh the company uses is a stainless steel mesh material, which can be customized to prevent certain fish species or items from passing through.

Kris Polly: What kind of maintenance do you have to perform on it throughout the year?

Matt Lukasiewicz: Up to this point, we have not had to do any maintenance. In the summer, as we mow the canals, the wind pushes some of the clippings, brush, and other trash into the canal. However, the screen quickly picks that out of the water. During the winter, our canals generally dry up. For the most part, we drain our pipelines, but some of our siphons may have some water in them over the winter. That being said, we do leave our screen system in place over the winter. The freezing and thawing has not had any effect on its performance.

The last thing that wears out on them is a plastic element that the screen rides on. The amount you use the screen will determine how often that has to be replaced. That was one of the selling points of the screen system. Today, it still looks brand new

Matt Lukasiewicz is the general manager of Sargent Irrigation District. He can be reached at