Windmills used to pump water for irrigation

Written by roger golden
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Windmills used to pump water for irrigation
Windmills have been used to pumps water for more than 1,000 years. (windmill image by Bruce Allinson from

Windmills have been used to pump water throughout recorded history. They are capable of pulling water from deep in the ground, or moving water from a lower level to a higher one. Today, research has shown that well owners can save a substantial amount of energy by using windmills to power pumps for irrigation rather than traditionally powered pumps. You can experiment with windmill efficiency by building scale models to test the application.

The Persian Windmill

The earliest designs of pumping windmills used vertical fins spaced around a central crank. A basic wooden frame draped with mats of reeds or hides formed each fin, or blade. Pumps were used to draw water from springs or wells into holding ponds or dispensing containers. Similar windmill pumps in China may have been developed earlier, but the earliest documented Chinese windmill came much later, in A.D. 1219.

Windmills in Crete

The first known application of horizontal crank windmills was on the island of Crete, where such devices can still be found dotting the countryside. A set of propellers is set in a dish shape mounted to a spinning spindle. A tail rudder projects from the rear of the device to train the windmill into the wind. This method has been used in Crete for hundreds of years to draw drinking water and provide irrigation for crops and other agriculture.

Windmills used to pump water for irrigation
Windmill pumps can be large or small, as long as there is sufficient wind. (windmill image by andreaschneider from

Holding Back the Flood

The Netherlands would not exist as it is today without windmill pumps. Large horizontal axis windmills were constructed to pump water out of low-lying areas, effectively creating new land by pushing back the water. This type of windmill seems to be a direct conversion of water- and livestock-driven grinding mills, and windmill pumps are often designed to perform double duty as grain grinders along with water moving.

Windmills used to pump water for irrigation
Watermill pumps are still common in the Netherlands. (windmill image by Terry Reimink from

Windmill Pumps in the United States

In the United States, windmill pumps that have been in continuous use for more than 100 years can be found in rural communities. A wellpoint is drilled into the ground to pierce the local water table, and horizontal shaft wind propellers drive the pump. To reach a constant and dependable source of wind flow, the driving mechanism of pumps may by placed atop a high tower or pole structure. Unpowered water pressure can be achieved by pumping water into a holding tank raised above the level of dispensing.

Windmills used to pump water for irrigation
The tank allows gravity to create artificial water pressure. (windmill image by John Martyn from

Windmill Pumps As Decorations

Miniature windmills can be used as decorative fixtures in garden or water pond displays. Using a traditional windmill pump, you can pump water to a higher level, powering a natural waterfall. You can also use wind power to create circulation in a pool or pond, using the pumps to create moving streams of water. A modern benefit of a decorative windmill is that it can be used to generate limited power, providing subtle lighting for a patio or deck from batteries charged during periods of higher wind.

Windmills used to pump water for irrigation
Watermill pumps can be custom built. (windmill image by Mikhail Olykainen from

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