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Sustainable Irrigation


Super-efficient irrigation is not new. It was first described more than two thousand years ago in China for people with too little land and too little water. Rediscovery of this information led to my work on super-efficient irrigation at remote desert sites more than thirty years ago. These systems benefit homeowners, gardeners, farmers, foresters, landscapers, and restorationist ecologists wherever water is scarce or costly. I hope it will also encourage further research and experimentation and the development of even better systems. 


The key to minimizing water use is getting water to the plant just as it is needed, with little or no loss of evaporation, runoff, or drainage lost into the deep soil. Getting water into the root zone quickly helps. These focused irrigation systems enable both water, soil amendments and fertilizer to be placed where they will benefit crops rather than weeds. Many new systems also reduce water use dramatically — by half or as much as 90%.


Olla irrigation, buried clay pots, pitcher irrigation, capillary wicks and mats, gravitational wicks, deep pipes, porous hose, porous clay pipe, weeping hose, drip irrigation, Fan Shengzhi, ceramic irrigation, porous capsules, rainwater harvesting, swales, key lines, rock lines, terraces, check dams, mulch, drought, water conservation, water use efficiency

Books, reports and papers 

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2015. Gardening with Less Water: Low-tech, low-cost techniques cut water use by 90%. Storey Press. Silver Nautilus Award Winner

✱Selected additional reading for the book Gardening with Less Water. 13 p 

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2013. Fan Shengzhi An agronomist of Ancient China. Sustainable Agriculture Note. 13-1. 4 p. 

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2012. Wick irrigation for tree establishment. Overstory Agroforestry Journal. #249. 9 p.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2006. Deep pipe irrigation. Overstory Agroforestry Journal #175. 6 p.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2006. Beyond drip irrigation – hyper-efficient irrigation systems. Proceedings American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Annual International Meeting, Portland, Oregon. ASABE #062073. St. Joseph, Michigan 10 p.

Bainbridge, D. A. 2016. Best garden watering system to control weeds. Mother Earth News. Aug/Sept. 

Bainbridge, D. A. 2014. Get started with more efficient irrigation systems. Permaculture News (Australia) April, 8 pages. 

Bainbridge, D. A. 2014. Inoculation response by irrigation system type for desert tree establishment. Tree Planter’s Notes. Fall. 57(2):44-52.

Bainbridge, D. A. 2013. Super efficient irrigation. Ceramics Monthly. November. 29-30.

Bainbridge, D. A. and J. R. Almoril. 2008. Métodos de riego eficientes. Agua y Tiera. La Tribuna Del Agua De Expo Zaragoza, Spain.

Bainbridge, D. A. 2012. Buried clay pipe irrigation. Restoration Note. bepress. 3 p. 

Bainbridge, D. A. 2006. Deep pipe irrigation. Overstory Agroforestry Journal #175. 6 p.

Bainbridge, D. A. 2002. Alternative irrigation systems. Ecological Restoration. 20(1):23-30.

Bainbridge, D. A., J. Tiszler, R. MacAller and M. F. Allen 2001. Irrigation and surface mulch effects on transplant establishment. Native Plants Journal. 2(1):25-29. 

Bainbridge, D. A., B. and A. Steen. 1998. Super-efficient irrigation with buried clay pots. USIU Environmental Studies/Canelo Project. 5 p. 


Bainbridge, D.A. 1986. Pitcher Irrigation. Working Paper #1. Dry Lands Research Institute. UC Riverside. 

Selected presentations

Bainbridge, D.A. 2021. Using more efficient irrigation systems. Urban Farm Water Harvesting Summit. San Diego.

Bainbridge, D. A. and J. Perkins. 2020. Remote site irrigation. Desert Restoration. BLM Conference, Palm Springs.

Bainbridge, D. A. 2022. Maximum Crop for Minimum Water and Almost No Weeds. Lemon Grove Community Garden. June 18.

Bainbridge, D. A. 2017. Ollas: Buried Clay Pot Irrigation with up to 90% Water Savings over other Irrigation Methods. YouTube.


Bainbridge, D. A. Maximum Crop for Minimum Water and Almost No Weeds, PPT

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