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Seven reasons why people hate irrigation systems …

Features - Irrigation

And seven ways to calm that anger.

Alan Harris | November 30, 2012

Finally, fall has firmly settled in. The days are shorter, temperatures are lower and plant growth has slowed. In other words, the evapotranspiration rate is lower with each passing day, which means each day the amount of water required by the landscape is less and less. And yet, I still see irrigation systems watering the same amount this week as last week. I hate that.

And I’m not the only one. Here are seven reasons people hate irrigation systems.

1. Old Controllers. Do you still have a rotary phone in your house? Does your cell phone still flip? Do you still listen to 8-track tapes? Controllers older than 5 years are not using the latest technology and are not watering the landscape in the most efficient manner.

2. Run Off. Once water starts to freely flow from the landscape onto drives and sidewalks, the soil has reached the saturation point and can not absorb any more water. The amount of time this takes to occur varies based on head type, soil type, compaction and slope.

3. Misting. During a wet check watch the fixed spray heads to see if there is a misting effect. Misting is a result of high pressure and as much as 50 percent of the water is evaporating into the atmosphere before it can get to the landscape.

4. Irrigating when Raining. If it is raining for more than 5 minutes the irrigation system should be like your flip phone on a Delta flight: turned off.

5. Broken Heads. At a minimum, a broken nozzle will emit 4 gallons a minute. If the zone is on for 10 minutes, 40 gallons of water were wasted. If the zone runs three times a week, 120 gallons were wasted. That’s about how much water a person uses in a day.

6. Shrubs Blocking Spray Patterns. When the irrigation system was first installed the landscape was young, so a 12-inch pop up head was tall enough. However, a mature plant often will block the spray pattern. A shrub (or sign) blocking the spray pattern means a higher concentration of water in one area and a “rain shadow” where no irrigation is reaching the plants or turf.

7. Leaking Valves. Sand, rocks and other small debris in the water system can keep a valve from fully closing. These are “invisible” leaks where just enough water gets through the valve to the lowest head and oozes out at a half gallon per minute, 30 gallons per hour, 720 gallons per day, 5,040 gallons per week. A small wet area in the gutter that never dries out and may have a slimy green, gray or brown coat is evidence of these silent water wasters.

If you have an irrigation system with any of these symptoms continue reading for the best cure.


Seven ways to calm that anger.

1. Upgrade controllers to smart technology to accurately determine how much water a landscape needs.

2. Use a cycle-and-soak feature on the new controller so zones run for a shorter amount of time, but may run more than once per watering cycle.

3. Install a pressure reducer on the mainline to control the pressure. If installing new heads or upgrading a system use pressure regulating heads for even better control of pressure resulting from grade change. (Water pressure at the bottom of the hill is higher than the top of the hill.)

4. Install a rain sensor or an in-ground soil moisture sensor.

5. Install a flow meter along with the smart controller. If you have the right technology, the system will bypass the zone with the broken head and send a message to your smart phone to let you know there is a problem.

6. If the head is next to the building it may be able to be changed to a fixed riser. A conversion to drip may also be possible or, if the plant material is well established and is in an area with ample rainfall, a well-established shrub bed may be able to be weaned off of irrigation.

7. The valve has to be taken apart and the debris removed by a service professional.

To the irrigation professional some or all of these may be obvious. My question is, “If they are so obvious, why then do I continue to see a plethora of these problems?” Tweet your response to @h2oBloggers with #L&L or leave a message on Facebook at Water Bloggers.

Alan Harris is the Southeast Region Sales Leader at ValleyCrest.