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Giddy-up on the radio mules

Mules are integral to Rubicon's latest water project in Chile.

GEOFF ADAMS November 7, 2012 4:01am

Jason Gray from Rubicon Shepparton on a mule in the Andes installing radio equipment.


Most exporting businesses must book shipping and road transport, but if you’re sending Shepparton-made irrigation gates you can’t forget to book the mules.

Victoria-based Rubicon has recently finished phase one of a project installing its flume gates in mountainous Chile, South America.

The high-tech irrigation systems are operated remotely by radio waves which travel by line of sight and require some radio telemetry to be erected on hills and mountains.

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Flume gates built by Rubicon Shepparton installed in Chile.

Rubicon International sales manager Peter Drew said some mountains had no roads and were too steep for any vehicle, so the radio equipment had to be taken to the top by mules.

‘‘Sometimes we can piggy-back on telecommunications towers but sometimes we have to put up the aerials ourselves

‘‘We got an urgent email the other day saying: ‘we need to get the itinerary for the next trip sorted out because we have to order the mules’.

‘‘I never thought I would ever have to repeat a sentence like that.’’

Shepparton-based communication technician Jason Gray has been on one of the mountain trips.

The company has been working in the Elqui River valley, an area with about 5000 irrigators in the Coquimbo region, about 500km north of Santiago.

Mr Drew said water was becoming scarce because of climate changes, desertification and growing demands from the mining industry.

As a result there had been rising tensions between water users and allegations that some users were extracting more then they were entitled to, as water use was largely unmetered.

The Chilean organisation managing irrigation wanted to improve flow measurement accuracy, frequency and safety, and wanted improved control over flows from the river into the channel systems.

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Radio equipment on a mountain top in Chile.

Rubicon has replaced existing manually operated control gates with Shepparton-made flume gates which accurately measure flow and feature integrated control, solar power and radio communications.

To enable remote monitoring and management of the flume gates, Rubicon installed a radio tower linked to a server running Rubicon’s software to the management body’s headquarters.

Mr Drew said since the solution was implemented, accurate flow measurement information on the six river diversions had greatly increased the transparency of operations.

Anyone can view the flume gates’ real-time flow information on a website, and the 1300 irrigators on channels supplied by the diversions can be confident that they are receiving their share of water.

Other water users are now confident that irrigators are not receiving more than their entitlement.

Shepparton-made gates are now being exported to 11 countries, including China, the United States and New Zealand, and Rubicon is also developing the market in Mexico.

The Total Channel Control System was developed in the Goulburn Valley and is being used for the foodbowl modernisation project.

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