Getting rain from a cloud? What’s so different about that, one may ask. The only difference is this cloud is computer-based, and it allows users to monitor and adjust several different controllers from a single location.
“Smart-irrigation solutions are leading technological advances in irrigation,” said Kurt Thompson, a Florida-based service contractor that focuses on sustainable water use in the landscape. “Internet-based programs give contractors a cost-effective way to manage water usage for even their small customers, without the expense of a traditional on-site weather station. Working through the cloud, using a system such as Weathermatic’s SmartLink, means water managers can be virtually anywhere and monitor a controller’s performance, adjust as needed, and be alerted to problems in the irrigation system. Many utilize the popular, off-the-shelf, handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets.”
The other major advance, Thompson added, is in hardware, or more specifically sprinkler performance as seen by advancements in both rotating and fixed nozzles. “The new rotating and fixed nozzles can reduce a water flow of 1.50 inches to 1.75 inches an hour from traditional spray sprinklers to between 0.40 inches and 0.80 inches an hour. The new nozzles are more efficient and uniform. They also can allow for more sprinklers to be controlled by a single valve, reducing the total number of valves required on a system.”
Thompson noted that these high-efficiency, lower-volume nozzles are made to have matched precipitation rates (MPR) so it takes the guesswork out of getting the right nozzle on the right sprinkler. Because they apply water at a slower rate, these nozzles can sometimes be used on the same valve with rotors. This mixing and matching of different nozzles on the same circuit would never be allowed using traditional spray nozzles.
“The trend today is to go with smart controllers, either weather- or sensor-based,” related Mike Underwood, branch manager for California-based Gachina Landscape Management. “But that doesn’t mean that a smart controller is the answer to increasing an irrigation system’s efficiency. Most irrigation specialists will tell you that upgrading the distribution system should take precedence over installing a smart controller.
“All is not lost if an irrigation specialist attempts a system fix with a smart controller exclusively. He or she will quickly find out where the distribution system needs upgrading.”
Another good starting point is offering a water audit. In addition to isolating potential problems in a system, the audit creates awareness about how much water is actually being used for irrigation.
Two years ago, Connecticut-based Eastern Land Management hired irrigation specialist Jose Igartua to provide water audits for customers. “Audits are very comprehensive,” explained Igartua. “We run the entire system looking for leaks. After we fix any breaks and ensure sprinklers/sprays and nozzles are in working order, we check zones. We do this with catch cans to determine their precipitation rate uniformity. The client then receives a description of what we have done, along with a list of recommendations.
“Depending on how big an irrigation system is, an audit can be very costly. We recently conducted an audit on a 50-zone system. Two employees spent three days doing the field work, and I spent another three days in the office analyzing the data and preparing a report.
“Clients will not want to spend the several thousand dollars an audit might cost unless they know how much water they’re already using and how much money it’s costing them. That’s where having a water meter installed in an irrigation system can be helpful. As water prices continue to go up, water audits become more attractive.”
Cost and Water Savings