According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a municipal water main breaks every two minutes in the United States.
Statistics are not kept for private irrigation main line breaks, but they certainly occur much more frequently than anyone desires. The primary reason behind most of the breaks is a result of an aging infrastructure. Often breaks start with leaks that over time weaken the pipe until the break occurs. One of the problems is a consumer often does not realize they have a leak until 30 to 60 days later when the water bill is so high it catches someone’s attention to investigate. By the time the leak is detected and repaired, it can be up to 90 days later. By that time, the increased water bills are usually very significant.
This past year more than ever we heard property managers share their frustrations about irrigation breaks, irrigation leaks and very high water bills. While most landscape maintenance contracts call for monthly wet checks, these inspections can’t catch leaks below ground, which is where and how breaks often originate and go undetected for days, weeks or months.
Typically a manager does not know they have an irrigation problem until someone sees and reports the water running down the street or the parking lot or sidewalk start to collapse. By that time, the cost to repair and the water used can be quite high.
Tools to save water and money. On the municipal front, firms like IBM are using analytic technologies to help cities and towns to better manage their water and reduce water loss. One of the tools they use is sensor technology, which includes pressure gauges and flow loggers throughout the water system.
Some of those same concepts are available for private irrigation systems. By incorporating a master valve with a flow sensor and a smart controller into the system, water loss and the resulting high costs from water bills and infrastructure repairs can be avoided.
How they work. First, the flow sensor detects the amount of water passing from the meter to the mainline. The sensor tells the smart controller water is flowing and the controller decides if it is acceptable. If the irrigation system is not supposed to be running or is using excessive water, the smart controller will shut down a single zone or stop all water from flowing via the master valve. A really good smart controller will also send an alert notifying a technician on their smart phone as to the problem and the action the controller implemented.
This technology works for more than just mainline breaks. When an irrigation head is broken or there is a break in the lateral line, the flow sensor will detect the increased water flow, skip the zone with the problem and send the alert. Now instead of discovering problems from monthly wet checks or high water bills, managers have the ability to receive instant notifications of problems and reduce water loss.
Want even more savings? A good smart controller considers the plant types, soil type and slope then automatically adjusts the irrigation program on a daily basis based on temperature, wind, humidity and solar radiation. These daily adjustments usually result in a 20 percent or more reduction in irrigation water usage and cost.
The author is director of sales operations and a regional sales leader at ValleyCrest.