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Proper Water Pressure & Flow In Drip Irrigation Systems

Mark Jolles<br>Former Director of Irrigation Sales
Mark Jolles
Former Director of Irrigation Sales // 13 Aug. 2017

(Last modified: April 17, 2023)

Drip irrigation systems are a great way to conserve water while still maintaining healthy plants. However, it’s important to ensure that the pressure, water, and flow are properly managed in order for the system to work effectively.

Proper water pressure and flow are integral to the operation of drip irrigation systems. They help determine how quickly water is pushed through the emitter, how well the plant is irrigated and how long the system runs between irrigations. As such, understanding proper pressure and flow is necessary to ensure the best performance of drip irrigation systems.

maintaining water pressure and flow in drip irrigation systems
Maintaining water pressure and flow in drip irrigation systems

One of the main goals when designing an irrigation system is to make sure that every single plant in your field gets exactly the right amount of water and nutrients from added fertilizers – also in the long-term.

All drip irrigation systems are designed to operate in a specific flow and pressure range. The flow rate through each emitter is directly related to the feed pressure, and proper operating pressure facilitates accurate distribution to emitters.

Why is Pressure Important in Drip Irrigation

As feed pressure is increased, the water velocity within the pipes increases. The flow of water against the pipes creates an energy loss in the form of friction, and this causes a reduction in pressure. For this reason, as feed pressure and thus water velocity increases, there is a corresponding decrease in downstream pressure, which is called pressure loss.

Factors Affecting Water Pressure and Flow in Drip Irrigation Systems

Several factors can affect water pressure and flow in a drip irrigation system. Let’s take a closer look at them:

1. Water Source:

The water source, whether it’s a well, municipal supply, or a water storage tank, can impact the water pressure and flow in your drip irrigation system. Different water sources may have varying pressure levels, and it’s essential to measure and monitor the pressure at the source to ensure it meets the requirements of your drip system.

2. Elevation:

The elevation of your drip irrigation system can also affect water pressure. As water moves against gravity, the pressure drops. So, if you have a drip system installed on a sloping terrain, you may need to adjust the pressure accordingly to ensure that water reaches all plants evenly.

3. Pipe Diameter and Length:

The diameter and length of the pipes in your drip system can also impact water pressure and flow. Using pipes that are too small or too long can result in pressure loss and reduced flow rates. It’s essential to choose the right pipe diameter and length based on the size of your system and the water requirements of your plants.

4. Emitters:

The type and size of emitters used in your drip system can also affect water pressure and flow. Emitters with smaller orifices tend to require higher pressure to maintain a consistent flow rate, while emitters with larger orifices may require lower pressure. It’s crucial to select emitters that are compatible with your system and the water needs of your plants.

Methods for Preventing Drip Irrigation Pressure Loss

Pressure Regulation

Pressure regulators are installed to make sure that the feed pressure to an agriculture irrigation system remains constant even if the source pressure is fluctuating. Regulating water pressure ensures that your irrigation is delivering the right amount of water at the right time. Pressure regulators also help protect systems and components against damage by surges in water pressure. 

Regulating water pressure is also important for controlling energy and water use. Delivering water at the correct pressure eliminates wasted pumping costs and ensures that the irrigation device will deliver the correct volume of water the crops being grown.    


There are instances when the existing water flow rate and pressure may not be adequate and a pump should be installed.

It is essential that you do your research and calculations before deciding on which pump is the best solution for your system.  If the incorrect pump is selected, this could influence the pump’s life-span and increase operating costs.  This also has an effect on the dependability of the irrigation system in its entirety. 


Proper filtration also helps to ensure that crops receive the correct amount of water and nutrients. Clogged emitters interrupt uniform distribution and a proper filtration solution can keep the drip irrigation system clean and prevent emitter clogging.

Monitor Critical Areas

Monitoring pressure at critical points in a drip system is just as critical as using pressure regulators. At the pump, before and after the filtration station, at the ends of sub-mains, mid-distance, and at the ends of drip lines are the most essential places to check the pressure.

At the pump and filter station, where pressures typically exceed 30 psi, pressure gauges can be used, but Schrader valves should be installed at other locations where pressures are lower so that the same gauge can be used to compare readings. In the field, valves can be used on the dribble tape utilizing couplers to take pressure readings and a connector hurl should be fitted. Drip tape pressure can be quickly and precisely be measured with digital pressure gauges, but they are susceptible to water damage. Most oil-filled pressure measures, which utilize a spring system, are not affected by water and are precise to ±1 psi to 2 psi.

Pressure gauges may be damaged and their accuracy may be affected by not handling them correctly. The accuracy of pressure gauges used in the field should be checked on a regular basis with a pressure gauge that has been calibrated. In most cases, irrigation workers require instruction on how to correctly take and record pressure readings.

For drip systems to function properly, pressure management is essential. During irrigation, pressure regulators should be used to keep the pressure constant, and pressure should be checked at important points to make sure a drip system is working well.

To summarize, maintaining the correct pressure and flow in your irrigation system is essential.  There are several methods that can prevent pressure loss and all are relatively easy to obtain, install and maintain.

Keeping your system running smoothly will ensure that each and every plant gets the right amount of water and nutrients exactly when needed.


Is 40 psi too high for drip irrigation?

It depends on the specific drip irrigation system you are using and the plants you are watering. Generally, most drip irrigation systems operate best within a pressure range of 20-30 psi (pounds per square inch).

Do I need a pressure reducer for drip irrigation?

It is generally recommended to use a pressure reducer for drip irrigation systems. This is because most drip irrigation systems are designed to operate best within a pressure range of 20-30 psi (pounds per square inch), and the pressure in most residential or commercial water sources is often higher than this.

If you are unsure whether you need a pressure reducer for your drip irrigation system, you can check the manufacturer’s recommendations for your specific system. Additionally, a professional irrigation service can help you determine whether a pressure reducer is necessary and help you install one if needed.

Is pressure regulation necessary when using drip irrigation?

Yes, pressure regulation is important when using drip irrigation. This is because most drip irrigation systems are designed to operate within a specific pressure range, typically between 20-30 psi (pounds per square inch).

If the water pressure is too high, it can cause the emitters to release water too quickly, which can lead to uneven watering, plant damage, and wasted water. If the pressure is too low, the emitters may not release enough water, leading to underwatering.

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