April 21 2008 12:00 AM

the increasing cost of water

Business seek the services of money managers, experts whose job it is to save companies and individuals money. The value of saving money is self-explanatory; they needn't rely upon a hard sell approach to justify the worth of their services.

As the cost of water skyrockets, the need for water managers will also become increasingly self evident. Water down the drain is money down the drain. As the cost of water goes up, the kind of money owners of large commercial landscapes will be required to pay for irrigation needs is going to start to hurt. At this point a water manager should come into his own. On projects that have six figure water bills, it may become a necessity to hire a full time water manager to monitor and maximize the effectiveness of water usage. It's hard for people to justify the cost of hiring a water manager, however, as the economics change, the benefits will soon become apparent.

Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s it was almost impossible to sell an automatic sprinkler system, it was considered extravagant. Then labor costs changed, and what was considered a luxury became a necessity. Today, you wouldn't consider installing an irrigation system that was manual.

What size site would really benefit from the expertise of a water manager? A project with fifty or more irrigated acres would realize a substantial cost savings. We can't afford to plug in a $25,000 to $30,000 a year salary unless he can go out on let's say a $100,000 a year water bill and save thirty percent. He just paid for himself and if the water bill is higher, there's the potential of saving even more money. The financial advantages are clear for a project of this scope.

This percentage of savings is perhaps a high figure, if the water manager is assigned to an existing job rather than brought into the irrigation project from its inception. On the other hand, the combination of a water manager and the use of drought tolerant plant materials could represent a sixty percent savings.

The role of a water manager would not be temporary, and he would not simply be serving in a consulting capacity. Without that water manager, you will revert back to the inefficiency you had before.

Irrigation technology at present cannot fulfill the role of a water manager. Automatic irrigation systems merely turn the water on and off at a given time. They cannot determine the relationship of water and plants. However, automation could encroach upon the duties of a water manager in the future. We now have weather stations and moisture sensing elements that will allow water to work when you need it. However, at the present time if it works at all, it is highly fragmented. You need a reliable person to check this equipment out and monitor it to see that it's all functioning as intended.

There are, or course, persons in the landscape and irrigation industry serving in capacities similar to those of a water manager, for example a golf course superintendent, in a sense has that responsibility. However, there should be someone the superintendent designates this responsibility to. This might not be his only function if the project is not large enough to require a full time person. This person can also handle repairs to the irrigation system as well.

Ideally, a water manager should have a broad background, including familiarity with maintenance, plant species, soils, turfgrass care, plant pathology and all aspects of irrigation. Education in these areas will ensure greater success.

The key to the development of the field of water management, will be the increasing cost of water, a factor that will change enough in the near future to make the position viable. Without extensive cost saving measures, the realities of supply and demand of our diminishing water resources may cause many enterprises dependent on this resource to be in financial difficulty. Nobody will make a killing by taking on a water manager, but it may be the only alternative to bankruptcy.