Going from Green to Blue: Irrigation and Water Management

By Russel Prophit CID, CIC, CLIA, CLWM

The economic condition of today’s market is causing many green industry companies to move from the green side into the blue. In other words, more companies are adding irrigation services to their portfolio of offerings. As a result, the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) has created the Irrigation & Water Management Specialty Group to help members better understand water conservation within the green industry.

Many areas of the country are experiencing moderate-to-severe drought conditions, which will reveal areas of poor coverage known as “hot spots” in the turf. The natural course of action for the inexperienced irrigator is to turn up the run times at the clock. This may well lead to over-irrigation to the surrounding areas, and waste an enormous amount of water in the process.

Irrigation products have come a long way in my 35 years in the industry. New water conservation products are hitting the market regularly. We have “Smart” controllers; soil moisture sensors; weather stations; weather sensors; and multi-trajectory, multi-stream heads that, when used correctly, will help to greatly conserve water in irrigation. But, for optimum results, we need to ensure we have proper coverage.

Distribution Uniformity (DU) is the term that describes how uniformly water is being applied in a given area. Since many areas of our country have no regulation or standard for the design and/or installation of an irrigation system, poor uniformity in irrigation is more often the case. Most irrigation contractors operate on “The Green Principle,” that is, if you can run the controller long enough to get the turf green, then you must be a good contractor. When the cost of installation is the deciding factor for the purchase of an irrigation system, uniformity will almost always suffer. Cost of operation over the life of the system is rarely discussed.

Increasing the uniformity of your system may provide the most conservation and savings on water cost. If you have one acre of warm-season turf in Central Florida, and the DU is increased from 55 percent to 65 percent, the water savings will be more than 200,000 gallons per year. That’s enough to provide water for a family of four for well over a year.

After increasing the DU of a system by relocating the sprinkler heads and adding and/or changing to higher-efficiency heads, looking to the Smart controllers would be in order. These controllers may have weather sensors, soil moisture sensors, and/or weather stations located on- or off-site. All have pros and cons, but I am a fan of soil moisture sensors, because they actually read the moisture content in the soil on-site and provide real-time data.

All Smart controllers will help to regulate the time and frequency of irrigation based on site-specific weather, plantings, soil type, slope and application rates, and adjust accordingly. Independent studies show savings of 20 to 80 percent when compared to a conventional timed event controller, which provides more savings during wetter times of the year.

Regardless of the type of controller system, the tendency is to water until the brown spot is green. With a low DU, all of the surrounding area in that zone will be over watered to get the spot green. A wise man once told me, “Plants don’t waste water, people do.” So, for better water conservation, take the necessary steps to determine the DU, and discuss the cost of operation over the life of the system.

Russel Prophit CID, CIC, CLIA, CLWM is PLANET Irrigation & Water Management Specialty Group member. Article provided by PLANET.

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