LIKE MOST COLLEGES around the country, the 1,700-acre University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City is constantly building new labs and classrooms, new sports facilities, etc. With ongoing campus construction and irrigation components that date back 50 years, there’s no end to accidentally broken lines or leaky valves. There’s no way of predicting when an irrigation-related disaster is about to hit . . . until there is flooding in the medical center computer room or water seepage in the vice president’s residence.

So it was not unusual for Elven Webb, the irrigation foreman at the university, to have his cell phone ring at 5 a.m. to be told of water shooting out somewhere. He and his crew of nine oversee more than 500 hydro-zones with over 12,000 sprinkler heads on nearly 1,100 landscaped acres.

Over the years, with all the addons, the irrigation system was in desperate need of a new central control. The university decided to invest in the Rain Bird Maxicom. “From the first, we wanted to optimize the functionality of the Maxicom. Our goal is to monitor water usage at every zone in real time, day or night. It’s a priority to detect high or low flows and to know immediately if there is a leak or break anywhere on the campus,” said Webb. “Without the ability to monitor water usage and flow, the central control system would just be an expensive timer,” he added.

But things have changed since the installation of 160 Netafim hydrometers at every point of connection throughout the campus.

Webb researched his options, and found that he would need multiple devices (flow sensor, master valve and pressure regulator) to do everything he wanted. He also discovered that most flow sensors were not practical on a campus with historic sites dating from 1850.

His local distributor, Sprinkler Supply of West Jordan, Utah, suggested he look at Netafim hydrome-ters. “After studying the multifunction capabilities of the hydrom-eters, and the ease of installation, we were ready to try them.” The device includes a water meter, flow sensor, master valve and pressure regulator.

But it wasn’t that easy. Over the years, many pipes had been changed and needed ‘straightening’; a number of pipes even had 90° elbows. To solve these challenges, the hydrometers that Netafim installed have a “straightening vane” that allows a direct connection from pipe to hydrometer anywhere in the system, even at a 90° elbow. “This feature alone was a dealmaker, especially on a cam- pus with ‘vintage’ installations,” said Webb.

If the hydrometer detects an unusually high or low flow rate, an alert is sent to the controller. If there is no response, the hydrometer automatically shuts down the problem valve, or the master valve, preventing flooding and site damage.

“We now have visible, accurate, real-time water readings at zones throughout the campus. We know exactly how much water is going through the system at any time.”

Joe Jackson, who oversees water management solutions at Sprinkler Supply and worked on the installation, says that contractors will find new opportunities for sales and service by becoming more familiar with the benefits of hydrometers.

“Hydrometers are being specified on more municipal, commercial and institutional projects, because local water districts and ratepayers are requiring more accountability,” he said.

“Property owners and managers are more educated about conservation and are asking, ‘What are we doing about water efficiency?’”

“At the University, we’re committed to being responsible stewards of the environment, and recognize the growing demands on our available water,” said Webb. “That’s why we are very enthusiastic about implementing new technologies that help us monitor water use and avoid irrigation-related disasters. Having the capability to automatically shut down a valve during a break or leak offers great peace of mind. It’s also been helpful in reducing the number of calls we get at 5 a.m.,” he added.