Technology provides opportunities for landscapers to match their clients’ irrigation and watering needs with larger conservation efforts that affect everyone in the state.
However, smart water technologies might also offer more than a project really needs. In fact, some products may be designed to “fix a non-issue issue,” according to John Steuble, irrigation designer for Grand Junction Pipe.
For example, he’s seeing some interest in WiFi-based controllers, but “having your controller talk to your thermostat in your house is probably not a feature that most of us … need,” he said.
Finding a right-size tool can make irrigation professionals more efficient in time, labor and, of course, water use.
Smart controllers that use local weather data and moisture sensors to help make scheduling decisions, or that let professionals communicate with a network of devices for remote scheduling, are becoming more prevalent, Warren Gorowitz, director of sustainability at Ewing, said.
Flow sensors used to be the province of municipal water management, but the price points have come down enough to make them suitable for commercial and residential projects. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” he said, and flow sensors give irrigation technicians real-time information about water usage and potential problems like leaks.
Some can even respond to those problems on their own and turn off flows to a leaking zone without the technician having to intervene. “Instead of having your landscape die because maybe you only get to a site once a week to do maintenance, you find out about it the next day,” Gorowitz said.
Low-volume drip irrigation is the most precise way to irrigate plants, he added, and high-efficiency nozzles, once a specialty item, are “becoming very much mainstream.” High-efficiency nozzles can be retrofitted to current irrigation systems to make them more efficient, too.
Steuble noted he’s seeing increased interest in two-wire decoder systems and smart controllers. “We’re seeing a lot of central-control-type software and installations like Rain Bird IQ and Hunter IMMS—that’s definitely becoming a more popular feature.” Grand Junction Pipe is a supplier for Rain Bird and Hunter.
What to look for
Longevity is a key factor in deciding which products to use, Steuble said. “We use irrigation water out of the Colorado River. It’s got a high debris load, and there’s a lot of equipment out there in the landscape turf industry that just won’t hold up to that kind of debris.”
In addition to durability, ease of use and cost are “generally the bigger drivers” when choosing technology products, “much more than industry ratings or water savings or things of that nature.”
Before the industry sees widespread adoption of smart controllers and these kinds of irrigation technologies, Steuble said, there needs to be more education for the people installing and servicing them.
Gorowitz added that the specialized knowledge required to install and maintain smart water technology should allay concerns about creating a one-and-done market for irrigation professionals who install a system for a client and then never have to touch it again. “There’s still an important need for trained landscape professionals,” he said. “It’s helping make them more efficient with their time and what they do.
Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.