April 1 2002 12:00 AM

It’s no secret that much of the nation is currently rain starved. Drought warnings and emergencies are sweeping the country as season-to-date precipitation remains significantly below normal. And you know what that means: voluntary water conservation plans, mandatory limits, less money invested in landscaping and more stress on existing plants, shrubs and turf.

But, while water reservoirs may be low, the spirits of landscape professionals shouldn’t be. Instead, you can take action by using water intelligently. By promoting water conservation, you’ll make great strides financially and ecologically for today and the future.

First action step? Educate yourself and your clients on currently available irrigation technology that saves water. Second action step: incorporate these smart products, and use them correctly.

Here’s a look at three easy ways to deliver beautiful landscapes with less water.

  1. Are you using irrigation control to its utmost?
    “Our industry can get the quickest water savings from simply using control devices properly,” says Jeff Carowitz, vice president of Hunter Industries. “The best way to do this is to understand scheduling — the act of continually tuning the irrigation system’s watering times with the landscape and with seasonal changes.”

    To understand scheduling is to know the relationships between plants, soil, water and weather. Then you can develop more accurate rules of thumb for developing your water schedules. You’ll realize that checking the scheduling of a controller isn’t just a twice-a-year function, or to be done when the grass turns brown, both of which are bad habits still practiced by uninformed contractors, according to Carowitz.

    “What we find is that the homeowner is often over-watering, or the uninformed contractor sets thirty minutes per station and checks it once a year,” he says. “Homeowners know they could be getting better water savings, which is why they’ve hired the contractor in the first place.”

    Of course, today’s controllers provide lots of tools for accurate water scheduling. These masterpieces of modern technology make it possible to implement sophisticated water management without a degree in engineering.

    For example, several manufacturers offer controllers with a seasonal adjustment or water budget that allows the user to easily change the overall watering schedule up or down by a percentage based on weather conditions. If you set your schedule in the summer but the weather turns extra hot, bump the percentage up 10 or 20 percent. If you hit a cold spell, take the percentage down 20 or 30 percent.

    Another user-friendly and inexpensive irrigation-control product for water savings is the rain sensor. It connects to the controller and overrides the normal schedule. If there’s rain, it keeps the controller turned off to compensate. When it’s dry, the sensor allows the controller to resume its normal schedule.

    “Rain sensors have been out for years, but contractors aren’t installing them as often as they should,” claims Carowitz. “Something so low in cost and so effective is a great way to make gains in water savings.”

    Look for controllers that are weather-sensor compatible. Not only can many controllers incorporate rain, moisture, freeze and wind sensors, but some can also display the sensor’s status on screen.

    “Just by using this technology to its full capability, our industry can get a 50 percent gain in water savings,” adds Carowitz. “It’s an instant benefit.”
  2. Are you using the latest in conventional irrigation?
    Sprinklers that deliver the best water savings today are those that offer improved uniformity, built-in pressure regulators and low-precipitation rates.

    “A sprinkler with good uniformity can make a bad design or installation work, and save water,” says Michael Rivers, a product manager for Rain Bird. “To improve uniformity, Rain Bird has focused on nozzle technology. We believe an efficient nozzle is one that applies a uniform amount of water from the head all the way out to the edge of the pattern with good close-in watering to avoid dry spots. It will also deliver large water droplets to fight wind.”

    Efficient nozzles allow you to run sprinklers for less time than before yet still achieve the same uniform coverage. You won’t have to over-water to compensate for dry spots or wind.
    “One tip for contractors regarding efficiency with nozzles: take advantage of the technology available for water savings by using the appropriate nozzles for the situation,” says Rivers.

    A sprinkler with a low-precipitation rate can also save water by reducing flooding and run-off that results when water is applied at a higher rate than the soil can absorb. The recently introduced MP Rotator, manufactured by Walla Walla Sprinkler Company, Walla Walla,
    Washington, is an example of this kind of sprinkler. It was designed to fit any male-threaded pop-up stem and to replace conventional spray-head nozzles, thus transforming a spray head into a short-range rotor.

    “It has a precipitation rate of about one-third that of spray heads, adding up to significant water and energy savings,” says Reid Nelson, marketing manager for Walla Walla.
    Spray sprinklers with built-in pressure regulation are also a must because they eliminate fog-like mists that get carried away by the wind. They automatically deliver a constant outlet pressure regardless of the inlet pressure. “We estimate that the use of this type of spray head compared to conventional spray heads results in a thirty percent water savings,” says Hunter’s Carowitz.
  3. Are you using low-volume irrigation where appropriate?
    If you’re not, you may find yourself mandated by conservation-minded municipalities to do so. For example, the City of Tampa, Florida, recently adopted irrigation standards stating that 50 percent of a homeowner’s landscape must consist of plants that can be irrigated with low-volume systems. A lawn cannot exceed 50 percent of the landscape. More cities will likely adopt these kinds of restrictions in the future.

    The fact is that low-volume or drip irrigation offers great water savings for shrubs, plants and trees because it applies much less water than even the low-precipitation rotors.
    “We believe that low-volume irrigation should have an application rate of no greater than 30 gallons an hour, or one-half gallon per minute,” says Bill Hutcheon, president of Antelco Irrigation, Longwood, Florida, which specializes in low-volume products.

    Hutcheon says there is a trend by manufacturers toward lower flow sprinklers in an effort to meet existing or yet-to-be-decided low-volume standards. But how do you get low-flow and broad coverage at the same time? Hutcheon thinks that you have to meet somewhere in the middle with something he calls a macro-spray.

    “It’s somewhere be-tween conventional high-flow spray heads and low-flow micro-sprays,” he says.

    Other technologically advanced low-volume products include pressure-compensating inline emitter tubing, and micro-spray pop-ups. A number of manufacturers of low-volume irrigation have built-in emitters for easy installation, and offer a no-overspray alternative to conventional spray heads in shrub areas and narrow planters. Macro pops install like conventional drip, yet perform like a pop-up sprinkler, but at low-volume flow rates.
    During the dry months ahead, you need to be as proactive as you can be in order to save water and your client’s landscapes. Be smart — check out the innovations in modern irrigation technology to find your success.

April 2002