The paper proposes a new method to tune robust distant downstream PI controllers for an irrigation canal pool. The method emphasizes the role of gain and phase margins in the controller design, by linking the selection of these robustness indicators to the time domain specifications. This leads to link the frequency domain approach used by automatic control engineers to the time domain approach used by hydraulic engineers. The maximum error corresponding to an unpredicted perturbation is shown to be directly linked to the gain margin and the settling time to the phase margin of the controlled system. The tuning method gives analytical expressions for the controller parameters as function of physical parameters of the canal pool in order to satisfy desired performance requirements. The model is first expressed in terms of dimensionless variables, in order to get generic tuning formulas. The dimensionless PI coefficients are then expressed as functions of time-domain performance requirements. The PI tuning method is evaluated by simulation on a full nonlinear model for a canal pool taken from the ASCE Test Cases.