The planning of irrigation systems is highly specialized and requires the help of agricultural engineers who understand not only the design and construction of irrigation systems, but also farm management and mechanization, soil science, crop husbandry, and the economics of farming. The engineer's education in these related fields is important so that he or she is able to design an irrigation system that is appropriate to the type of farming in the area that is to be irrigated.
Before an irrigation system can be built, a number of important studies must be made. Among them would be a survey of land and water resources, a study of the current uses of the area, a proposal for an irrigation system, cost estimates of the project, and a projection of its economic benefits. A large regional or national project might also include the economic and material resources for the project that are available by the particular entity, the cost of construction and administration of the project, the financing and marketing of the project to individual farmers, and the training of personnel to carry out the project.
Among the specific surveys that must be made before an irrigation system is constructed are soil, water, and topographic surveys. Sometimes critical decisions have to be made about the destruction of monuments from antiquity. For instance, when the Aswan Dam was built, some important statues from ancient Egyptian culture were lost because they were covered by water. Another important consideration for building a new irrigation project is whether it will change the current farm practices, and if so, how to educate farmers to new methods. Foremost at issue is the consideration of how an irrigation system will impact the farmers and farming in the area.