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“Smart” Irrigation Controllers – What You Need to Know

By: Danny Smith, Water Manager, Park West Landscape Management

With summer heat comes the responsibility of keeping your landscapes healthy and attractive. But what steps are your landscapers taking to make sure your thirsty plant palette is being satisfied? As water districts throughout the region begin rolling out tiered-rate structures for commercial landscape customers it is becoming a top priority to not only water efficiently, but to design your irrigation system to conserve water.

Why should we care so much about our water usage here in California? Because watering our landscapes, filling our pools and enjoying lavish water features account for more than 50% of all water usage in California.  Some customers will now be subject to strict tiered-rate structures. The new water rates will separate the water conscious communities from the inefficient wasteful users and will financially burden the community until the irrigation deficiencies and wasteful practices are resolved.

When it comes to your irrigation system, replacing worn leaky sprinklers is the most common practice to reduce excess run-off but may not be the best solution to obtain long-term results. For example, have you ever driven into your community and seen the irrigation running while it’s raining? Have you ever had to call your landscaper on the weekend about irrigation that will not turn off? These are common problems associated with worn irrigation controllers and their attachments.  New technology designed for the cellular communications industry is making its way into the landscape industry via “Smart” controllers. These devices will allow users to become more involved with their watering needs while staying within the budget.

Several of the top landscape equipment manufacturers such as Rain Master, WeatherTrak and Calsense have developed controllers that will not only modify their programs (watering days and station run times) on a daily basis but also apply only enough water for sufficient plant health. That means your controller will gather weather data based on your specific microclimate and just accordingly. Would you like the controller to email you and your landscaper notifications if the pre-set parameters have changed? It can do that. If you choose to add sensors such as a flow meter or master valve, you will have full control of your irrigation system including real-time water usage reports, weather data and excess usage alerts. The controllers can even determine how many days to shut down after a rainfall event and will turn on automatically before the landscape begins to show signs of stress.

Water districts such as El Toro, Moulton Niguel and Irvine Ranch have already implemented tiered-rate structures.  Depending on which water district’s website you visit, the new rate structure is designed to reward the customers with low water usage and penalize those whose water usage exceeds their monthly allocation. For most service accounts the customer is allocated irrigation water based on evapo-transpiration (a measurement calculated by relative humidity, solar radiation, rainfall and other factors) and the square feet of landscape irrigated by each water meter. If you are unsure of how your water bill is calculated or whether your property is billed based on an allocation, you can view your water bill or contact your water district. Overall, if you wish to reduce your water usage by up to 30% annually, “Smart” controllers can prove to be the best long-term solution. In addition, if you wish to have a “Smart” controller that can adjust its parameters per real-time weather data, but you choose not to run all capabilities, there are products designed specifically for your community. However, due to the complexity and endless capabilities of these “Smart” controllers, it is recommended you consult with a landscape professional to determine which controller type will be the most beneficial to the community.

This article was printed with permission from Park West Landscape.  To learn more, please visit their website at http://parkwestlandscape.com/.  This article was also published in the July/August 2012 issue of the OC View Magazine published by the Orange County Chapter of the Community Associations Institute.  Visit their website at www.caioc.org.

 

 

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