Late last year, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Phoenix for the 2014 Irrigation Show. It draws a pretty good crowd – about 4,000 contractors, distributors and manufacturers – to a warm and sunny locale every winter. One of my favorite things about any trade show is the conversations I get to have in the hallway. That’s where I get most of my best story ideas, industry insight and new perspectives on things.
One of those perspectives came this week from Michael Dukes from the University of Florida. He’s one of the smartest guys working in irrigation today and won a well-deserved award from the Irrigation Association for his work in educating the next generation of the industry.
He gave me an update on a long-range study he and his team are doing on the true impact smart controllers and customer education have on water savings in residential irrigation systems. Initial data show that high-efficiency systems combined with intensive customer education can boost water savings by 40 percent compared to the control group.
But it’s that customer education part that’s so tricky. A system can be on track to save a large volume of water, only to have the homeowner override it a few times when the lawn starts to look a little brown. Then, poof! There goes 3,000 gallons down the drain.
“We’re trying to figure out people. I’m an engineer, not a social scientist,” Dukes told me. “Irrigation’s a behavioral thing. It’s so frustrating. … People are strange.”
There are so many components to an efficient irrigation system – everything from smart controllers to pipes to spray heads to nozzles to sensors. And they all must work together to work at all.
But an irrigation system is, unfortunately, only as efficient as the person controlling it, whether that’s a highly trained and certified technician or a homeowner who wants to give the turf a 15-minute shot of water every day because he thinks it looks dry.
And, since they’re not going to stop making people, that means landscapers and irrigation contractors have their work cut out for them. But it also means that landscapers and irrigation contractors are in a great position to become water management advisers.
You’re in the best position to be the smartest part of the irrigation system, and show your customers just how much of an impact you can have on saving water and improving the environment.
– Chuck Bowen