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Start Smart Irrigation Month With Water Conservation

Jason Gibby | Irrigation

There’s an old tale about a giant with a leaky faucet. In his home, the tale goes, the giant’s faucet has a terrible leak. Night after night, the leak drips and drips. And since it’s only one drop at a time, the giant thinks nothing of it. “Why, that’s just one drop,” the giant says, “and there are many rivers, lakes and oceans.”

Soon, however, that one drop becomes many, and the giant’s home begins to fill with water. In a few short weeks, the water rises so high that the giant begins to fear that he might drown. So, in a panic, he opens his huge front door and out gushes all the water. Only then, drenched from head to toe, and hearing his leaky faucet dripping, does the giant finally realize what he’s lost.

Don’t be the giant. Wasting water is never a good choice. He could have simply fixed the leak or captured some of that buildup. Anything would have been better than ignoring the problem. But the fact is, even though water is all around us, like the giant, we often fail to see a problem until it’s too late.

Conserving water is, and will continue to be, a commitment and a necessity. But that doesn’t have to mean hard labor or great expense. Most times, water conservation comes down to a simple choice: save it or waste it.

With July being Smart Irrigation Month, and the hottest time of the year, what better time to start letting your clients know the benefits of water conservation? In recent years, drought and rising water prices have left property owners seeking options. And with the number of available technologies, methods and systems, they have choices.

The market is ripe for anything that can conserve this liquid gold—even if that means one drop at a time.

Before you begin, it’s wise to determine how much water is actually being used on a client’s property. To do this efficiently, it’s suggested that you do a water audit.

“Performing an irrigation audit allows you to take note of where the water is going,” says Warren Gorowitz, vice president of sustainability at Ewing Irrigation in Phoenix, Arizona. “Once that’s clear, you can decide which adjustments are necessary, and determine the smartest, most sustainable ways to irrigate the property.”

Until they audit their clients’ systems, many contractors don’t realize that the properties they service are actually being over-watered, sometimes by as much as fifty percent. That kind of water loss can really hurt.

Once you’ve done the audit, and you can cite to the client how much water they can save, and how they can reduce their water bills, you should not have a problem getting the okay to retrofit.

“If you’re able to tell your customers how much they’ll save on a monthly basis, whether that’s in gallons or dollars, they start to realize that their new system will pay for itself in only a couple of years. The reason’s simple, too: you’re watering less and skipping the huge irrigation bills,” says Arturo Dominguez, founder of Extremescapes of Central Texas, located in Hutto.

After you identify where the water is going, plant selection becomes the next priority. Take a peek outside. Right beside all those exotic imported plants are some of the least expensive, most sustainable and abundantly available water-savers out there: native plants. What’s really impressive about natives is that they require little to no irrigation after establishment.

Because they’re naturally adapted to the climate and region, native plants and wildflowers settle into the soil with relative ease. Other than spot spraying and some initial soil treatment, chemicals and fertilizers also become less necessary.

“The hotter it is, the more they bloom, and the brighter they are,” says Dominguez. “And that’s with minimal involvement, like maintenance and irrigation. Most folks don’t realize how widely available natives are. They’re not isolated by region—they’re everywhere, most times right outside your door.”

You might have to explain to your clients that native does not mean ugly. In fact, since their color palette often differs from what people are used to, native plantings often result in visually unique landscapes. Once your clients realize that native plants can save water and create beautiful properties, you won’t have to do much convincing.

With plants picked out and placed, it’s probably a good idea to start small on the tech side of things. One of the simpler options, high-efficiency, low-precipitation nozzles, allow you to replace existing nozzles with highly sustainable alternatives.

“They’re relatively easy to replace and don’t involve a lot of digging or labor to set up,” says Gorowitz. “And right away, they can generally save a site 20 to 30 percent, if not more, of the water they’re using. They also cut way down on runoff.”

Using high-efficiency nozzles makes the retrofit of your client’s irrigation system seamless. For the client, it’s not a complicated change; it’s just an adjustment. After the nozzles have been in the ground for a while, and especially once the water savings are recognized, your clients will likely be more receptive to other, more complex technologies, such as smart controllers.

Like the bridge of a ship, a smart controller behaves as an irrigation system’s command hub. Smart controllers gather site-specific environmental information, such as weather, soil moisture, evaporation and plant transpiration rates, in order to ‘decide’ when to water.

“They take a lot of the guesswork out of the process,” says Gorowitz. “They obviously require setup and programming, but the client ends up with automation that regulates water use and reduces waste.”

Another technology that’s gaining traction is permeable pavers. Not only do these filter and trap pollutants, but they allow water to percolate and leach into the soil below. Impervious surfaces, like regular concrete, allows water to be wasted.

Rainwater harvesting is also getting more popular. The simplest rainwater harvesting setup, an above-ground tank, works by funneling water from a property’s gutters and downspouts into above ground storage tanks. That water can then be used to irrigate. The other option uses underground storage tanks. Utilizing underground storage tanks along with permeable pavers is an even better way to go.

And all of these options, mind you, can be hooked right up to a new or existing irrigation system. That means that sprinklers can draw from the stored rainwater first, and then, once that’s expended, switch over to the main water source.

“On the consumer end, I’m seeing a lot of people who are willing to pay the extra money to have a rainwater system installed because they want to be more self-sustaining,” says Ed Beaulieu, chief sustainability officer at Aquascape in St. Charles, Illinois. “This allows them to capture and re use the water onsite. And since this water can’t be restricted, you can use it as you see fit.”

Drip irrigation is also a top choice for conserving water. These systems are designed to deliver water slowly, in precise amounts, directly to the root zones of plants. If you’re in a region with water restrictions, drip technology provides a cost-effective solution. Since they emit such low volumes of water, drip systems are often exempt from regulations.

“Switching over to drip is often a negligible dollar amount,” says Dominguez. “The parts are so inexpensive, it’s ridiculous. Most properties can be converted for only a couple of hundred bucks.”

Although not as popular, you might also consider adding plant growth regulators (PGRs) to your repertoire. When applied to a landscape, whether on lawns, shrubs or hedges, these chemicals can slow growth rates by as much as 50 percent at peak performance. With reduced growth comes a lesser need for water.

When you recognize the scope of products available, there is really no reason to skip on water conservation. And since mandates in many regions, especially those with severe drought, now require water-saving technology in new (and sometimes existing) landscapes, committing to sustainability has never been more important.

“Many areas are offering incentives. A lot of municipalities and water agencies encourage the upgrade of irrigation equipment,” says Gorowitz. “Or, if it’s an existing landscape, they offer incentives for a more sustainable redesign.”

Either way, you can present clients with options that reduce their water woes. And it’s not necessary to wait until the government gets involved. Starting now will give you a competitive edge and the know how necessary to thrive in the upcoming environment.

The future is bright for water conservation, particularly on the tech side of things. Many irrigation technologies, especially smart controllers, are now going mobile.

Although it’s not yet as simple as adjusting a thermostat, by prioritizing ease of use and digital mobility, the industry is moving more and more in that direction.

To give you an idea, with this technology, you could manage the irrigation on several properties from one remote location. Imagine what your clients would say if they called to ask for an adjustment and then, only seconds later, saw you make the changes in real time without ever stepping foot on their property. That’s the kind of customer service that’ll set you apart. It’s also timesaving, effective and profitable.

Whether it’s mandated or voluntary, new technology or old, saving water is good for the environment and your bottom line. By choosing to conserve water, you demonstrate your company’s commitment to sustainability and open up a world of new, lucrative possibilities. And remember, as the giant showed us, if you fail to recognize what you have, one drop can soon become many. So why not test the waters?

 
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