It is the height of irrigation season and everyone is struggling to keep their greenery green. While tips for water conservation often focus on residential lawns or agricultural crops, commercial landscaping offers significant opportunities to save water and reduce utility bills. For municipalities and multi-service utilities, helping these customers improve irrigation efficiency can yield benefits for both consumers and providers.
According to an article in Buildings, a facility management trade publication, inefficient irrigation methods and systems can waste up to 50 percent of the water they consume. That quickly adds up to a painful water bill for your commercial customers and puts pressure on local water supplies and treatment systems. Share these tips to help facility managers at office parks, golf courses and other public green spaces get control of their irrigation practices.
Take care of your system
Failing to maintain irrigation systems may be the biggest factor leading to massive water waste.
One of the reasons for this neglect is that maintenance staffs often lack experience with irrigations systems. For example, when systems break down, they may attempt to make repairs with whatever equipment they can find, not understanding that every sprinkler waters differently. A replacement sprinkler head that does not work properly with the remaining original heads could affect the efficiency of the entire system.
Even working systems need a tuneup from time to time by someone who knows about irrigation. Something as simple as routine landscaping tasks can accidentally redirect a sprinkler head. Watering areas that don’t need it—like sidewalks and pavements near landscaping—can waste enormous amounts of water.
Choose your method
The critical question of which type of sprinkler technology to install–drip or overhead–is best answered in the system design phase. The two main types of irrigation systems each have their own set of pros and cons, many depending on the specific area to be watered.
The drip method of irrigation provides a steadier flow of water that goes directly into the soil, and can reduce water use by as much as 20 percent compared to an overhead sprinkler system. The down side of drip irrigation is that it is susceptible to breaking, and requires a higher quality of water. If you don’t have an in-house irrigation specialist, this may not be a good choice for your facility.
Overhead systems—more traditional sprinklers that spray water above the targeted plants—are likely to be less efficient with water use, but they require less maintenance. This method is suitable for larger lawn spaces, whereas a drip system might be more appropriate for localized shrubs and flowers.
Control, schedule watering
Setting a schedule for your system’s operation over time is vital to reducing water use and will have a big impact on conservation efforts.
The article states that a common mistake is turning on the irrigation system in the spring and keeping the same watering schedule until it is shut off for the winter. Plants generally need less water in May or October than they do in the middle of summer. Adjusting the schedule throughout watering season can not only reduce water waste, it can improve the look and health of the plants.
Big water savings can come from replacing a simple timer with a smart controller that determines watering schedules based on climate or soil moisture. However, educating staff members is critical to getting optimum results from a smart controller. Otherwise, your crew is likely to revert to a time-based schedule because it is easier to understand and gives them more control.
Landscaping with native and drought-resistant plants is another proactive strategy for reducing water consumption. But unlike switching to a new type of sprinkler system, this change is relatively cheap and easy and offers a lot of flexibility.
The Environmental Protection Agency did a case study on a Texas shopping mall that coupled xeriscaping with changes to its irrigation system to reduce its water use by 60 percent. The Village at Stone Oak in San Antonio saved nearly 14 million gallons of water annually by converting around 50,000 square feet of turf grass to xeriscape and modifying almost 85,000 square feet of its irrigation system.
Utilities in the West have become increasingly aware that combining energy and water conservation efforts often improve the results of both. Feel free to share your ideas for taking customer programs out of silos and getting a bigger bang for your programming buck.
Source: Buildings via RCM Newsletter, 7/31/17