Mar 18 2010

Gauging irrigation: It saves water and your wallet

sprinklerBy Nick Strehle

When I was ten years-old my mom, sister, and I were driving to the mall when I noticed something odd. It was a rainy afternoon, and we passed an apartment complex irrigating their turf. Even back then this did not make any sense to me and my sister quickly became annoyed with me constantly asking why people irrigated in the rain.

Thinking back on this story, I find it funny to see what I have become today: a landscaper and EPA Water Sense Partner. I now speak routinely about irrigation efficiency and scheduling, so I guess not too much has changed. Partnerships through the Irrigation Association and the EPA WaterSense program have allowed me to further my passion for teaching homeowners how to improve their plant/turf health and conserve water.

It’s now spring time and although some people have not shut off their irrigation systems all winter, turning on irrigation and gearing it up for the spring and summer months should be first priority on your list. To kick off the spring and to continue our efforts to make irrigation systems more efficient, Sunburst Landscaping is offering the new Rain Bird wireless rain gauge for 30% off normal retail price to the first 100 clients. Rain gauges provide an efficient way to adapt to the current weather. Not only do they prevent unnecessary watering (thus saving on your water bill), but they also reduce extra wear and tear on the entire irrigation system.

The Rain Bird rain gauge is available in two different models. One relies on rainfall information, and the other model relies on both rainfall and the temperature, which is measured every 45 seconds and sent back to the controller. Two other design features are the rain gauge, which can be easily mounted away from trees and/or roof overhangs, and a battery life of four years.

The return on your investment is most seen during heavy rain periods. For an example, most irrigations systems contain three zones using close to 800 gallons of water per cycle. Once you pay your minimum water and sewer fee, there is an $11.15 charge per 748 gallons used (These numbers are from Charleston Water System and are only for demonstration). There are around 100 days of precipitation in Charleston, so if we do not count these days, we could be spending an extra $1,193 on water we did not need.

In addition to the rain gauge, here are four easy tips to change how to use automatic irrigation systems for the better health of our plants and turfgrass:

1) Water only when needed. Saturate root zones and let the soil dry. Watering too much and too frequently results in shallow roots, weed growth, disease, and insects.

2) Water at the optimum time. Water when the sun is low or down, winds are calm and temperatures are cool; this will reduce evaporation. This is generally between the evening and early morning hours. You can lose as much as 30% of water to evaporation by watering mid-day.

3) Adapt your watering schedule to the weather and the season. Adjust your watering schedule regularly to conform to current weather conditions. Water usage should look like a bell curve, with the highest months being June, July, and August.

4) Schedule each individual zone in your irrigation system. Schedule, or run time accounts, for the type of sprinkler, sun or shade exposure, and the soil type for each specific area in your yard.

When Rain Bird offered the ET Manager, we knew it would be a product which could assist in our efforts to provide our clients with better turf. These clients enjoy using less water, applying fewer fungicides and insecticides, and having the healthiest turf on the islands. We are excited to be able to offer the Wireless Rain Gauge to help stop needless, wasteful irrigation.

Nick Strehle is a Purdue University Agronomy Major, certified irrigation contractor and EPA WaterSense Partner for Sunburst Landscaping Inc., leading Sunburst’s clients into the next generation of water management. For more information, contact Sunburst at 768-2434.

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