In the late 1960s, a small but determined band of irrigation visionaries began assembling periodically in small offices and dark restaurants dotted throughout the San Francisco Bay area. They felt compelled to discuss their evolving vocation— independent irrigation system design.
Their as yet unspoken goals were taking shape: to regularly exchange ideas related to unique project challenges and solutions; establish some fundamental design standards; create a professional code of conduct; and commiserate about the swimming target of local legislation that might affect their livelihoods. These would be the forefathers of independent irrigation system design and the founders of the American Society of Irrigation Consultants (ASIC).
To be sure, independent irrigation system design was a tough sell at the time. Up to that point, designs were simply a free service provided predominantly by irrigation distributors, with irrigation manufacturers and contractors -- and any other entrepreneur who was convincing enough -- putting their fingers in the pie from time to time.
The systems connected to a water supply, were buried underground and dispersed water over the landscape. Although they generally performed, they were fraught with inefficiencies.
"Irrigation was being designed based on how much equipment a distributor could sell from specific product lines, with no consideration for which combination of products would best serve the site," says Chet Sarsfield, one of seven ASIC founders. "Water was flying everywhere, with the goal of turning product and keeping the landscape green -- no matter what it took."
Times they were a-changing
In 1971, the American Society of Irrigation Consultants was borne of myriad external and internal forces, many unforeseen at the time. The avalanche of technology simplifying our lives was sliding into the irrigation business. New plastics and PVC pipe made systems more affordable and easier to install.
"However, fundamental irrigation design was the same as today," remarks Russ Mitchell, with Russ D. Mitchell & Associates in Walnut Creek, California. "You had your point of connection, backflow prevention, which was all over the place in terms of codes, mainlines, laterals and sprinkler spacing and control." Mitchell would know; he's another ASIC founder.
Irrigation consultant David Pagano, with d.d. Pagano in Orange, California, remembers receiving the letter. He discussed it with the late Bob Cloud, another irrigation designer in Southern California with strong ideas about irrigation design standards, professional ethics and the benefits of independent irrigation design. "Irrigation consultants in California decided to get together to meet and confer," Pagano reflects. "There were all of 25 of us and we figured we weren't big enough to take on the landscape architects or propose legislation, so we hired a lobbyist to state our case."
Consequently, ASIC's Southern California chapter was assembled, to build ideas and add clout to the organization. SoCal's 'Force of Nine' included Pagano, Cloud, Roger Gordon, Lee Bean, Chuck Schardt, Bill Reineke, Tom Onouye, Cy Holden and Paul Kesterson. Although still compact, ASIC had doubled in size both in its membership and the amount of irrigation being specified and installed throughout the state.
"We were ready to play what we hoped was our ace-in-the-hole: the Reineke family. The family owned Febco and their son Bill was a consultant, and their other son, Ed, was California's Lieutenant Governor," Pagano says.
Ultimately, the California Legislature granted a permanent exemption of exclusivity that permitted landscape architects to continue irrigation design under their existing license, but allowed qualified consultants to design irrigation, as well.
Irrigation consultants, through a path of solidarity, organization and maybe a little desperation, had won their right to continue designing irrigation in California. "That was a huge deal for us," Mitchell relates. "We managed to collect and really organize as a group to protect our livelihoods and create some outside awareness of what an independent consultant is and does, and our value to business and the environment. We really rallied to the cause."
Plans across America
Awareness of the organization began to build regionally, while irrigation designers in Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado were watching. All the while, the California group had been sharing its dilemma with friends and colleagues across the country.
Dick Smith, who was designing irrigation and pump systems for golf courses throughout the Northeast, recognized that golf course architects considered their work art, and themselves artists. "They weren't necessarily interested in the nuts and bolts part of the course," Smith relates. "But they certainly understood that irrigation was the key component in the success of their designs."
"Golf course irrigation design was really picking up in the Northeast," Smith continues.
"We were busy converting systems from center-row to multirow configurations with central control -- and because folks relied heavily on surface water in the Northeast, we were designing or updating pumping systems all over New England," Smith adds.
He and Sarsfield had worked on a couple of organizational projects together with the Irrigation Association. Smith liked what irrigation consultants were doing for the business and what they represented. He and colleague Ken White, from Connecticut and New Hampshire respectively, joined ASIC in 1972 as its first out-of-state members. "We just wanted to support what they were doing," Smith offers. "We knew they were a West Coast organization, but we very much agreed with their vision."
As interest in the organization continued to expand, ASIC revised its bylaws, and in 1974 added three new chapters in the Northeast, Arizona and Colorado. Over the next 35 years, the membership would grow to nearly 300 independent irrigation consultants, allied irrigation professionals, institutional affiliates, students, and irrigation manufacturers worldwide.
An annual conference was added to the mission in 1984, and its annual National Excellence in Irrigation Awards soon followed. "The awards were established to make the complex kinds of irrigation solutions our members were coming up with more visible," Sarsfield adds. Members were quickly establishing themselves as the go-to designers for large, complex water resource development and irrigation delivery system projects throughout the U.S. and in areas of South America, Australia, the Pacific Rim and Israel.
As its laterals spread, so too did ASIC's gospel -- professional independent designs implementing sound engineering principles, environmental stewardship, regulatory compliance and advanced performance. ASIC was setting the bar for professional conduct in the industry.
From its inception, ASIC members have become increasingly active in developing accepted industry standards for designing and specifying irrigation system projects. "We're in drafting rooms, board rooms, legislative chambers and federal agencies, as well as distributor outlets and construction sites," asserts Norman Bartlett, current ASIC executive director. "We're affecting education, practice and policy across the nation and beyond."
"The American Society of Irrigation Consultants is a pretty compact organization," continues Bartlett, "but over the last 35 years we have collectively designed irrigation and water delivery systems over thousands of sections of urban land dispersing millions of acre feet of water -- an enormous responsibility to be sure, and one we take quite seriously." The membership has projects in all 50 states and on all seven continents. Of its original members, California consultants Russ Mitchell and Dave Pagano are still practicing their craft.
As the irrigation industry continues to evolve at a blistering pace, and water resources become increasingly strained, ASIC will continue its work in training the green industry and better informing the public and private sectors about water resource development and conservation.
"Ultimately, our goal is to build respectability for the industry. I guarantee ASIC will be out there advancing professional irrigation principles, while being called upon to develop new and innovative solutions to supply-demand issues in large cities and burgeoning communities throughout the world," Sarfield concludes.