The thrill is never gone. That feeling when an irrigation system pops on and sprays a mist of water (non-potable, of course) on to thirsty turf, when pumps are in motion and controllers are in effect. “Knowing that we designed the system, and it works, is what I like the best,” says Brian Vinchesi, founder of Irrigation Consulting in Pepperell, Mass.
And it doesn’t matter if the system is on the National Mall at the nation’s capital, a LEED-certified property, or a small site using an alternative water source. “I still love to go out and watch something we designed come on and work … and work correctly,” Vinchesi says.
Precision and sophistication are prerequisites for every irrigation system Vinchesi touches. He’s an irrigation engineer – and he has traveled the world to consult on new and renovation projects. Along with the National Mall, his firm’s portfolio includes Disney and the National Arboretum.
It all started with an agricultural irrigation background, a post-college stint in Texas working for a company that designed wastewater systems for large animal facilities. He then took a job for an irrigation distributor in the turf arena.
This was back in 1984. “When I first started as a consultant, you had to convince people that they needed to pay someone to design their system,” he says of how the industry has evolved over the last three decades.
Now, professional designs are more prevalent, and a move toward installing systems that use alternative water supplies has changed the face of irrigation for Vinchesi and other leading-edge professionals.
Today, Vinchesi’s firm, founded in 1988, manages the broad stroke of irrigation, anything having to do with water supply, he says. “Our sweet spot is pumping and alternative water,” he says, relating how his work today involves analysis and evaluation, beyond design.
The new school of irrigation will not irrigate a landscape with the same water you can drink. But designing systems using non-potable water require more technical expertise and a different way of thinking.
“Thirty years ago, no one really cared how you applied water or how uniformly you applied it, as long as you applied the water,” Vinchesi says. “Those days are gone.
“We have worked very hard to design systems that are cost-effective for customers’ site, and that use multiple water sources, not necessarily just one,” Vinchesi says of solutions. He’s talking rainwater, storm water, sub-foundation drainage – “any water we can get to.”
Designing systems that pull this alternative water to the surface for irrigation purposes requires expert pumping knowledge. Pump design is a competitive edge for Vinchesi and his team. “We know controls very well,” he says.
That’s why the firm wins high-profile contracts. The other reason why is Vinchesi’s connections with industry colleagues and anyone involved in the irrigation environment who wants to elevate best practices. And, he’s prolific. The former president of Irrigation Association and American Society of Irrigation Consultants has authored hundreds of articles and published in excess of 20 professional papers – that’s aside from teaching, volunteering and consulting.
One of Vinchesi’s favorite volunteer-teaching roles is an instructor and judge at PLANET’s Student Career Days, which has three irrigation events. “The students are so interested in the subject matter – they are like sponges,” he says. “The nice thing about students is the opportunity to teach people who are really excited about irrigation,” Vinchesi says.
The future means more irrigation innovation, he says. “I think soil moisture sensing is going to take over the industry, whether we want it to or not,” he says, referencing regulations coming down the pike. “That technology just helps us save water, and these days, it’s about becoming more efficient with sensors and smart controllers and using the technologies out there.”
Adapt or get regulated out of business. That’s what Vinchesi says will be the party line before long.
“I’m a big proponent that no irrigation system should be using potable water, and smart irrigation contractors have moved on to this idea of being more sustainable with what we do, how we design and what we sell,” he says.