Nov. 16 2009 12:00 AM
Today’s irrigation technology is rapidly evolving to deliver water more evenly, more efficiently and more affordably. These improvements couldn’t come at a better time.

With water sustainability in the public eye and an economy that demands lower cost options for everything, there’s a need for products that address these concerns.

There’s also a call for well-educated contractors who can deliver this new technology.

Travis Komara, president of GPH Irrigation, Rancho Cucamonga, California, comments on the importance of staying up-to-date. “Technology will help us control our own destiny. If we maintain the status quo, politicians will inevitably make decisions for us about how irrigation should be done.”

Better technology and expertise will help put decisions about how to water back into the hands of irrigation specialists and their customers.

So what are some of these technologies? Although it is almost impossible to list all the new products coming on the market, here are just a few examples of how technology can work for us.

Smart products

Smart controllers continue to grow in popularity, thanks to publicity and rebate programs.

Manufacturers are also adding to their appeal by making them easier to use and more accessible to homeowners and smaller properties.

Rain Bird’s ESP-SMT is designed to offer a simple, affordable version of weather-based control for home-owners. It uses an on-site weather sensor and emphasizes straightforward programming. The weather sensing includes a rain shutoff device that not only stops irrigation during rain but also measures useable rainfall and calculates replacement value.

I-Core is the first of the next generation controllers being introduced by Hunter Industries.

Designed for commercial and highend residential applications, the I- Core is built with water conservation programming, and a bold backlit graphic display that is easy to read. It features a diagnostic dashboard that provides the user with a quick and comprehensive status of the entire system and sensors.

It also has multiple flow sensing capabilities.

Alextronix has introduced its Universal Smart Module (USM). This piece of equipment is small in size and basically makes any conventional irrigation controller ‘smart.’ Strictly for the residential market, the USM will work with controllers up to eight stations.

You simply attach the wires to the controller and set the controller with the summer program.

Once that is done enter the zip code into the module and hit the ‘learn’ button. It’s as simple as that.

Another area where technology is gaining is in sensing devices. Improvements in these devices are also helping irrigation systems make better ‘decisions’ about when to water. Rain Bird’s new SMRT-Y (pronounced smart-why) is designed to offer an affordable, low maintenance way to measure actual moisture levels in the soil and prevent over-watering.

“The kit includes an in-ground soil moisture sensor and a controller interface unit,” says Rick Foster, senior product manager at Rain Bird. “The user interface shows the moisture as a percentage from 0-100. It also shows soil temperature and electrical conductivity.”

When soil moisture is above a set threshold, the watering cycle is suspended.

The SMRT-Y is capable of interfacing with any irrigation timer, allowing contractors to turn any controller into a smart controller.

The Aguamiser from MorpH20 (pronounced“morpho”) Water Management, LLC, Ogden, Utah, is another new soil moisture sensor system for the landscape and turf market.

“We started out in agriculture and decided that this technology needs to be available to the residential landscape industry as well,” says Paul Remy, vice president for turf and landscape at MorpH20.

Each kit includes a soil moisture sensor and an Aguamiser controller that controls up to four valves. When soil moisture reaches a pre-determined trigger point, the Aguamiser interrupts programmed irrigation events. “We’ve seen water savings as much as 70 percent,” says Remy.

It’s designed to work with all irrigation systems and is fully encased and submersible. The Aguamiser can be installed locally where the valves and sensor are located and wired directly to the valves being controlled, or it can be used to control specific zones from the irrigation clock.

In this economy, it’s very important for contractors to have a tool to generate revenue and provide service and value to their existing clients. A contractor can go to either an existing system or a new installation and deliver smart control technology in a way that’s reliable and durable.

Efficient Nozzles

Another technology aimed at water conservation is the rotating stream nozzle. Landscape contractors began installing them a few years ago and it’s rapidly catching on with consumers, thanks to rebate programs and public education campaigns.

Rotating nozzles reduce water use by applying multiple streams more slowly and evenly than conventional spray heads. They prevent runoff because they deliver water slowly enough for the soil to absorb it. They also offer better wind resistance.

“These simple-to-use devices provide high application efficiency, which allows substantial water savings,” says Gene Smith, product manager for mechanical products, Hunter Industries. “Some, like the Hunter MP Rotator, are adjustable in arc and radius while maintaining matched precipitation with the other sprinklers in an irrigation zone, thus providing versatility and efficiency automatically.”

Because they fit a conventional sprayhead bodies, rotating nozzles have become a popular retrofit for existing systems.

“These devices, when used properly, provide up-sell opportunities, even in this tough economy,” says Smith, “by showing the return on the cost through water bill savings.”

Toro’s Precision Spray Nozzles are also designed to use less water and reduce runoff.

Instead of rotating streams, they use one or more high-frequency oscillating streams to deliver water at a rate of one inch per hour, without moving parts. Models cover various radii between five and 15 feet.

“This is still a stream technology which allows us to cover the distance of a conventional spray nozzle but with a 35 percent lower flow rate,” says Mike Baron, Toro’s national sales specification manager. “By putting water down more slowly and evenly, Precision Sprays deliver better uniformity than conventional sprays.”

Shortly, Toro will add to the Precision Series with its own rotating nozzle, designed to offer efficient watering for larger radius applications. The new Precision Series Rotating Nozzles (PRN) use gear-driven technology to uniformly deliver water at a rate of .6 inches per hour.

“By using a gear drive, the nozzle has more consistent rotation after adjustment and at varying pressures,” says Baron. “It also has ten times the force. Over time, if you have calcium buildup, more power gives you the ability to drive through any type of impediment that might slow you down.”

K-Rain, Riviera Beach, Florida, recently introduced its own line of matched precipitation rotating stream nozzles. Fixed pattern models are currently available and the company plans to offer adjustable rotating stream nozzles in 2010.

“We’re continuing to work on all of our existing products, engineering them to provide the best, most consistent coverage,” says Rick Hall, technical director. But he points out that the best new tools can’t compensate for a poorly designed system.

“These are better tools than yesterday’s tools, but efficient irrigation still requires attention to basics,” says Hall. “If you’re using the same zone to irrigate turf and plantings at the same time, putting down new nozzles isn’t going to solve that problem. Installers and homeowners also have to take care of issues like effective zone sizes, zone separation and head spacing.”

Durable Drip

Drip irrigation is another technology that’s getting more traction with the homeowner. Though drip irrigation has been around for 70 years or so, only recently has it gained recognition. Line pressure compensating drip emitters with long warranties, improved tubing, as well as improvements in product longevity and ease of maintenance are helping spur interest.

“There are two types of pressure GPH,compensating emitters,” explains Komara—turbulent flow or silicone-controlled.

The turbulent flow type requires higher filtration and more frequent maintenance. The silicone type doesn’t require the same filtration but is susceptible to degradation from chloramines. Where that is a problem is in reclaimed water.

GPH uses a new material to handle that issue. “We use a new engineering-grade thermoplastic that has only been available for about a year,” says Komara. “Our product takes a big leap forward, guaranteeing a minimum of ten years, but we expect them to be running 25 years from now.”

Low-volume irrigation components have really garnered attention in these past few years. Municipalities in various parts of the country, where drought or water shortages occurred, have written the use of low-volume irrigation systems into their regulations.

Spitters, bubblers, micro sprays, and mini sprays are all catching on, and they do make a difference in the overall scheme of water sustainability.

Irrigation contractors have never had better opportunities to put high-tech functionality into the hands of their customers. Now is the time to educate yourself and share your expertise.

Here are a few smart new water-saving irrigation products that are about to be released:

Spray Smart

The new Spray Smart system from Aeromaster Innovations, Inc., promises an easy way to sub-divide any irrigation zone into two smaller zones in order to solve many common problems.

Spray Smart valves simply screw into each sprinkler and are manually adjusted to operate as either A- Zone or B-Zone valves, without rewiring or plumbing. Using the irrigation controller, A-Zone and B- Zone sprinklers can be programmed to run for longer or shorter periods.

Contractors can use the valves to address issues like uneven watering, dry or wet spots, insufficient pressure and inefficient mixed� planting zones. They can even divide zones to be watered with drip and conventional irrigation, especially in mixed lawn/flower bed areas.

“The problem with mixed landscapes is prevalent,” says Jeff Spitzer, president. “Most are historical systems that haven’t been updated in a while.” Spray smart enables contractors to optimize those older, inefficient systems.


A single broken sprinkler can waste gallons of water every minute. The new GeyserStop two way check valve is designed to halt this waste immediately.

The device screws into each sprinkler and uses a stainless steel ball to stop excessive flow. When the system is off, the ball rests on the bottom, where it prevents backflow. When the system operates normally, the ball floats in the stream. Excess flow from either a broken riser or sprinkler head will raise the ball and create a seal to stop the geyser.

“This is an excellent opportunity for contractors to offer something to save clients money right away,” says Scott Armstrong, partner at GeyserStop. “It takes the emergency out of the fix and continues to let the rest of the system run normally.”

SECOSYS Water Management System

SECOSYS WM101 is a complete building water management system that tracks and controls all aspects of water usage indoors and out. Suitable for both single family and multi-tenant buildings, it offers multiple ways to help keep irrigation and other water use within budget and free of costly surprises.

“This is the first complete water management system that enables people to understand how they’re using their water so they can truly conserve,” says Hank McCarrick, CEO, SECOSYS. “Every drop that comes past the primary meter is accounted for and there are a number of controls the user can input to make sure water doesn’t get misused.”

The system uses a collection of meters, valves, controllers and displays to keep track of daily use, warn when water is being wasted and mitigate leaks. It’s especially useful as a training tool for those who manage water based on allocation. “You enter the amount of water you’re allowed, and it provides real-time information on daily use, compared to your target,” says McCarrick.

Drop N Lock Valve Box

Even the most efficient systems can lose hundreds of dollars in wasted water when vandals tamper with valves and controls. Drop N Lock from Oldcastle Precast Enclosure Solutions drastically reduces this threat.

“The need for more secure valve boxes is growing, especially in the South and Southwest where drought conditions are prevalent,” says Britt Sweet, director of marketing. “We saw that demand and came up with a simplified locking solution.”

When the lid is closed, it locks automatically. “It takes only a Phillip’s screwdriver to open it,” says Sweet. “But the lock isn’t obvious, and for those who aren’t knowledgeable, it’s difficult to open.” This poses enough of a deterrent to keep prying hands out.