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Home > Natural Resources > Water Strategies to Preserve Natural Resource Supplies and Quality

Smart Irrigation Controllers Save 25-50% on Landscape Irrigation and Damage from Overwatering

Water rates are rising faster than electricity rates -- and smart lawn irrigation can save 25-45% on your water bill.

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Landscapes consume the lion's share of urban water, and are overwatered by 30-to-300%. Add to that, water rates are rising across North America. But the real cost of overwatering — property destruction, runoff and expensive liabilities — is 5-to-10 times as high as water bills. That's why smart irrigation controllers from companies like WeatherTRAK provide proven solutions that deliver ROI faster than any other green initiative.

California mandates are on the way -- many municipalities are instituting mandates to curb outdoor irrigation today.

Based on a survey of state water departments, the U.S. General Accounting Office concluded that 36 states will have “water shortages in average rainfall years by 2010.”

Meeting future water demand requires that we act immediately to
conserve 25% of our current water supply,
according to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the nation’s largest water provider.

Grappling with other water-related issues, many agencies have decided to delay conservation projects until the public perceives a critical shortage.

According to WeatherTRAK, who draws on years of experience in designing and implementing landscape conservation programs, some agencies face political barriers or consumer resistance to saving water. Past conservation programs have produced largely disappointing results, causing enthusiasm to dwindle.

SUCCESS STORY: 25% Savings

The widespread implementation of low-flow plumbing devices has saved significant amounts of water in the past decade. In Los Angeles, California, the powerful combination of a federal code requiring low-flow plumbing devices in new developments and rebates for installing these devices in homes and commercial sites has reduced water demand by twenty-five percent.

New Conservation Efforts Transitioning from the Indoors to the Outdoors

Water agencies must ensure that their water infrastructure can satisfy peak demand and emergency flow requirements. Peak usage is in the hottest weather period when demand for landscape water is greatest.

Analysis has shown that agency demand curve peaks have been pushed to artificially high levels because landscapes need significantly less water than is typically applied to them.

If landscape water use were efficient, the water infrastructure and supply would accommodate many more customers without costly upgrades. Moreover, customers would pay less for water. The result is a win-win for elected water officials: a more reliable water supply and satisfied customers.

SUCCESS STORY: 45% Savings

Examining current agency programs and past studies data, we see that it is likely that as much as 50% of current landscape water could be saved. For example, in Irvine, California, landscape water conservation programs have reduced commercial irrigation by 45%.

The advantages to landscape water conservation are far-reaching. Not only is the need for expensive infrastructure upgrades reduced, but there are also measurable environmental benefits. Efficient landscape water use yields significant dividends by reducing the tremendous costs incurred in pumping and transporting water.

It is estimated that it requires 10 TO 30% of California’s total energy supply to move water from its source to the regions in which it is consumed (California Urban Water Conservation Council, 2001).

Landscape water runoff contains pollutants from fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that are now being measured in our lakes, streams, bays, and oceans. Metropolitan Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) conducted a peer-reviewed study that documented the relationship between landscape water waste and non-point source water pollution.

Consumer support can be quickly won through significant cost savings in individual water bills and overall water delivery system costs.

Landscape water efficiency is likely to be a water provider’s cheapest supply of new water.

Weather Based Irrigation Controllers can Save 35% of Landscape Water Use

Based on results of a California pilot program that were extrapolated across a larger customer base, one water district found that the installation of weather-based irrigation controllers would save 35% of water currently applied to landscapes in the service area.

The water district determined that installing the controllers would cost 29% less than securing more water through infrastructure expansion and water purchases.

Indoor water savings have been realized in most communities. But the American Water Works Association (AWWA) reports that 58% of non-agricultural water is applied to residential and commercial landscapes, whereas toilets use just 11%.

Low-flow toilets save water automatically with every flush, but they were a tough sell to many consumers. By contrast, convincing consumers to adopt effective outdoor conservation appliances has been easier because people enjoy spending time in their gardens.

80% of American households participate in some form of gardening for enjoyment, environmental benefit, or enhanced property value

(National Gardening Association survey, 2003).

Water district staff reports that water use is actually higher today in new homes than in older homes with comparable lot and structure sizes. This is despite:
1) increased agency conservation programs,
2) mandated installation of low-flow plumbing devices into all homes built since 1992, and
3) use of low water need plants suggested by state legislation (AB 325).

Efficient indoor water use is considered a widespread practice in the area, which points to increased landscape water use, despite conservation measures.

Traditional methods for reducing landscape water demand have proven to be difficult to enforce and monitor, expensive for long-term use, politically unpopular, and, in some cases, actually counter-productive. In light of study results about typical landscape watering behavior, these lackluster results are not surprising.

Study after study has shown that nearly everyone, from novices to experts, over-waters.

Why? Scheduling irrigation requires complex scientific equations that must be calculated daily as local weather changes. The fact is that accurately setting and adjusting irrigation schedules is difficult and time-consuming. Add to that, many homeowners mistakenly believe that the more water applied, the healthier the landscape. It’s time to stop deluding ourselves about the willingness and ability of homeowners and professionals to calculate efficient irrigation scheduling. Water providers are charting a new course for achieving their goals.

Introducing Weather-based Irrigation Management

In 1998, the first weather-based controller was tested for its ability to accurately schedule and adjust irrigation by MWD and the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD). Existing residential controllers were removed and replaced with WeatherTRAK-enabled controllers in forty homes. New levels of water usage were compared against historical water usage for the same households.

Following are the results of this study:

  • Landscape water use in average water use households was reduced by sixteen percent to twenty-five percent.
  • Plant health and appearance improved.
  • Water bills were reduced.
  • Customer satisfaction was measured at ninety-seven percent.
Homeowners reported that their plants looked as good as or better than they did prior to WeatherTRAK installation, their water bills were lower, and that they did not have to do anything. Participants appreciated the convenience offered by the WeatherTRAK-enabled controller, which fully automates irrigation. This study, which opened the eyes of agency officials, marked the first time a controller was shown to maximize conservation by accurately irrigating in accordance with plants’ varied needs and daily, local weather conditions.

A broad range of studies with varied settings and objectives has proven the benefits of weather-based irrigation management. WeatherTRAK-enabled controllers, now available from The Toro Company, Irritrol Systems, and HydroPoint Data Systems, have been tested more than all other products combined.

One of many programs worthy of note is the California EPA-funded study of the use of WeatherTRAK-enabled controllers in micro-watershed areas. Study methodology tested the controllers in neighborhoods of three-to-four-hundred homes with street landscapes as well as homeowner association common areas and parks.

The goal was to measure the ability of weather-based irrigation controllers to reduce urban runoff and non-point source water pollution through precise calculation of water applications.

The study found that:

RUNOFF in neighborhoods with WeatherTRAK-enabled controllers was reduced by 71%, when compared to control neighborhoods.

Mass loading of pollutants into the waterway was correspondingly reduced by 71%.

These impressive results led directly to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation providing $1.5 million in rebate funds for Orange County-based water agencies to distribute to consumers who install approved smart controllers.

The ability to broadcast weather-based data (local evapotranspiration, or ET, values) and automate plant-specific irrigation scheduling provides additional benefits, including:

Peaking Management Service: daily, wireless transmission of ET data for maximum water use efficiency.

Rain/Winter Shut-off Service: automated irrigation suspension during rain and the winter season, particularly useful in colder climates.

Drought Management Service: broadcasting during emergency drought conditions, is a powerful tool for enforcing water conservation.

To read the full explanation of adopting and implementing a new water conservation program for your community, contact WeatherTRAK for their white paper by Tom Ash, entitled, "How to Implement a Cost-effective Landscape Water Efficiency Program".

Corporate Office:
1720 Corporate Circle
Petaluma, CA 94954 USA
Toll-free: 800.362.8774

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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