DRYDEN — A sweeping change is in the pipeline for irrigators that could save them hours of work daily and bin-loads of money in years to come.
The self-cleaning irrigation ditch screen — or SCIDS (pronounced “skids”) — is a simple, patent-pending invention by former Dryden orchardist, metal fabricator and lifelong tinkerer Frank Andrews.
OK, design of the prototype took him 33 years — “I just kept thinking and thinking,” he laughed — but the result is a low-maintenance device that requires no outside power source, operates automatically and could last for decades. He’s built and installed 15 of the mechanisms for orchardists between Leavenworth and Cashmere to rave reviews, he said.
“Why didn’t someone invent this before?” asked the 61-year-old inventor. “It’s a mystery to me.”
SCIDS replaces an irrigation system’s traditional intake pipe — the perforated pipe that sits under the surface in an irrigation canal and funnels water from the ditch to a weir to the system’s pumps. In Wenatchee Valley orchards and vineyards, thousands of these intake pipes sit silently underwater, doing their jobs with no complaints until … well, until they clog up.
Yep, the intake pipes clog up frequently. Ditch water’s floating debris — grass, leaves, sticks, bundles of twine, rodent carcasses, whatever falls into the flow — catches on these intake pipes, clogs the holes and slows or stops the draw of water into an orchard’s system. Orchard workers must clean the pipes as many as four times a day or more.
Long term, algae is a particularly pesky problem, sliming up the pipe and growing over the holes to sometimes dramatically slow the intake flow.
“You spend 20 to 45 minutes unclogging the intake several times a day, maybe on multiple pipes, and you’re pulled from other important (orchard) tasks,” said Andrews. “The time starts to add up in a serious way.”
That’s where SCIDS comes in. The device consists of an intake pipe capped by a filtration screen that’s continually swept — or cleaned — by a stiff brush. The brush is powered by a compact, submerged water wheel that takes up just a tad more room than the traditional intake set-up. Loosened debris just floats away on the ditch’s current. The entire mechanism is hinged to lift out of the water for easy maintenance.
Costs vary because each device is custom-made to fit individual irrigation systems, but the typical price is $2,450 each.
Made of aluminum, stainless steel, brass and plastic, SCIDS looks simple but, over the decades, took Andrews thousands of hours of brainwork, said his wife Diane. “It was fun to see his mind working, see the gears turning,” she said. “He’d have ‘aha!’ moments, stand up and disappear into the workshop,” she said.
Tinkerer at heart, Frank Andrews has been rebuilding cars since he was 13 years old, skills that led him through a retail career in welding supplies in the Seattle area and, eventually, to buying a fruit orchard in Dryden in 1979, which he and Diane ran until selling it in 2000.
In the 1980s, the couple also founded Metal Works, Inc., a metal fabrication shop, which they operate today and which provides the space and tools to design and build Frank’s inventions — retractable forklift tines for orchard tractors, an automated fruit bin washer, custom-made bin trailers and a handful of others.
In February 2012, after three decades of pondering, Frank Andrews was struck by inspiration — water blade angle, water-wheel cowling — that would eventually lead to SCIDS’s first successful prototype and working installations in nearby orchards. A year later, the Andrews obtained a provisional U.S. patent for the device and are now ready to sell the invention to the irrigating world.
“It’s an invention that can be used wherever there’s an irrigation ditch,” said Andrews. “Definitely all the orchards around here, but also for crops in the Columbia Basin, Tri-Cities, California … heck, just about anywhere water is delivered in a ditch.”