Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Jerry Hall

Advisor Role

Thesis Committee Member

Second Advisor

Kenneth Hewitt

Advisor Role

Thesis Committee Member

Third Advisor

Helen Parson

Advisor Role

Thesis Committee Member


The appreciation of water as a finite resource has engendered a renewed research interest in producing effective water management policies and practices in order to reduce both current and potential demands on existing reserves. Unfortunately, such research, especially in the humid regions of North America, has concentrated on water use in urban areas and has neglected the use of water in irrigation agriculture; even though irrigation is a major consumptive use of water in many localized areas. In addition, research has been dominated by physical, technological and economic viewpoints at the expense of an understanding of the human element in the management of irrigation water. This neglect results in the misinterpretation of current water use practices and inaccurate estimates of future demand. Potential consequences include the development of ill-devised water management policies, and recommendations of ineffective water management practices. This study attempts to provide an understanding of existing irrigation management practices in southern Ontario. Specifically, 35 irrigating farms in three distinct counties were surveyed to determine the methods of securing a supply of irrigation water, delivering and applying water to fields, and the factors affecting the timing and amount of water applications. Bureaucratic regulation of water use is reviewed and found to be ineffective in controlling the use of water. Additionally, due to the proximity of water sources to the point of use, communal allocation and regulation of water use are not evident in southern Ontario. An examination of on-farm irrigation practices, including both the technical and cultural methods of irrigating, reveals a pattern of diversity and variation between farmers. This is related to the variety of circumstance within which farmers operate and the practically autonomous control over water exercised by each individual irrigator. According to yield maximizing criteria, the majority of surveyed farmers are found to be under-utilizing irrigation water in terms of seasonal need. In practicing a form of survival irrigation, farmers deviate from scientific recommendations of optimal irrigation management practices. This is commonly explained in terms of irrationality due to a carelessness or lack of information on the part of the farmer. Conversely, this present study describes this dichotomy as one of differing objectives and characterizes existing practices as rational. In a system that is free from effective institutional constraints or controls over the delivery and use of water, farmers have the flexibility to adapt their irrigation practices to their individual operating circumstance. In doing so, they are guided by their unique experience and objectives as farmers. If they are to be effective, recommendations to improve irrigation practices and the formulation of improved water management policies, must take into account the variety of circumstance in localized areas and be based on an understanding of the rationale behind existing water use practices.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Hydrology Commons