CASE STUDY: Mind Over Water
Last November, an affluent six-acre gated community received a notification that their water bill would increase by 10 percent every year for the next five years. Located within the lush hills of Thousand Oaks, California, the Trentwood Canyon Homeowners Association realized their annual water bill of $70,000 would double over that period of time. In addition to this increased cost, the property owners expressed concern over future mandatory watering restrictions, since they were already hitting Tier 3 and Tier 4 costs during the summer.
Adjoining the famous Sherwood Country Club, one of the property owners learned that the country club was using well water. The board of directors appointed a committee to explore the feasibility of digging a well. It seemed like a viable alternative, because there were already 200 wells within the Lake Sherwood area.
Richard Jack, owner of United Landcare, is the landscape maintenance service provider who takes care of the Trentwood homes. A self-taught designer with 35 years in the landscape industry, Jack volunteered to help the homeowners association analyze the feasibility of installing a well.
If the community could use water from a well to offset purchasing potable water, that would help alleviate some of the financial strain. So, after the homeowners put it to a vote, a hydrologist was brought in to consult with the committee, and a location for drilling the well was selected.
Jack, along with the hydrologist, would design the project using well water. The water would be pumped into two 3,000-gallon
holding tanks, guaranteeing a reserve for irrigation watering cycles. It was only a matter of getting water from a raw hole in the ground to the sprinkler heads—or, at least, it seemed that simple.
“It has not been without its challenges,” admits Jack. After sub-contracting with a company to dig the well, he had to retrofit the irrigation system to allow use of the water. Because the property’s elevation varied 120 feet, Jack decided to use two 5hp pumps, placing boosters in both upper and lower portions of the land.
However, regulating two pump speeds with variable frequency drives (VFD) became complicated in regards to the water pressure in the two booster pumps. For instance, if both pumps ran to irrigate the lower half of the property, they would end up with too much pressure.
To remedy this, Jack opted to swap the VFDs with Rain Master RME Eagles controllers placed at the booster pump locations, and water well to monitor the different aspects of flow.
Jack programmed the specifications of the tank’s flow sensor into the Eagle. Once it senses an excessive amount of water, it shuts off the master valve supplying the tanks, preventing the possibility of cavitations. Pretty nifty, considering the entire community relies solely on the well for irrigation, pumping over 30,000 gallons a day.
“I’m also using some of the Eagle’s Internet-based features, which can be implemented into email notifications about the health of the system and water distribution,” Jack says. “If something shuts down on a Friday
night, I’ll know about it on Friday—not when I come in on Monday morning.”
Once the well started producing water, Jack tested it and found there to be a very high iron content. So high, in fact, that it could possibly stain concrete surfaces, making it useless for irrigation purposes.
Various iron filtration units were cost prohibitive. So, Jack settled on an iron sequester, placing an injection point by the well to eventually mix with a fertilizer combination he aptly nicknamed “witches brew” (magnesium, phosphorus, nitrogen, etc.).
The fertigation process had astronomical results. After three months, the soil’s pH level went from 8.1 down to 7.1, an ideal number for plant material.
“Rather than trying to put gypsum down into the soil to adjust the pH levels,” says Jack, “we’re doing it by what we put in the water.” Compared to common practices other maintenance companies use—like putting down sulfur and different additives to increase penetration—fertigation was less labor-intensive.
But Jack says it’s been a doubleedged sword. Now he’s faced with an abundance of flourishing flora. “Although the plant material has never looked healthier,” he remarks, “I have to trim it more frequently.”
In the end, the 2,000 hours of labor paid off. The community’s recent bill for municipal water for irrigation use: $0.
With 13 smart controllers monitoring water usage and drainage, the Trentwood Canyon Homeowners Association owes a lot to landscape maintenance sage Richard Jack. “I built the project from my crazy mind,” he says in disbelief, “and so far it’s been pretty amazing!”