I recently came across a National Water Council report that discussed the water challenges that we are facing today as well as those of the very near future. It states, “Fresh water is quickly becoming the petroleum of the 21st century. Globally, water consumption is doubling every 20 years, more than two times the world population growth. It is estimated that about one-third of the global population will not have access to adequate drinking water by 2025. The water shortage is not only impacting parts of the world like Australia and China, but also right here in the United States in cities like Atlanta and Las Vegas.”
Most of us are environmentally aware enough that we know the little things we can do; turn the water off while we brush our teeth, look for WaterSense or WaterSmart appliances (shower heads, toilets), etc. These things make sense and not only are they good for the environment but they also save you money in the form of reducing your water bill. While these are great steps and can certainly lead to savings, most of us are not aware of a much larger cause of water waste… one that can easily double or even triple your water bill.
So what is this culprit? I recently took my daughter to see the animated movie “Rango” at the theater and the characters were dealing with this very same issue. These animals lived in the desert and no longer had the water they needed to survive. Their water was vanishing; it was being stolen so they set out to find where it had gone. After a long and perilous journey they came to the metropolis of Las Vegas and what is it they see as they make it to the top of the hill that overlooks the city? They see large sprinkler systems watering everything… wasting their water. “Water, water everywhere and none to drink.”
While this is just a child’s cartoon it is certainly art imitating life. It is absolutely absurd that we continue to water roadways and sidewalks, irrigate in the heat of the day or when it’s raining with what appears to be little or no regard for the impact this is having on our environment. It simply defies logic because we have the technology sitting right in front of us to prevent this from happening and there is certainly a glaring need to implement it. To add insult to injury we also pay for this waste financially. Think about that for just a second… in this economy we actually pay the price in the form of a water bill that can often times be double or triple what it need be.
The problem is not irrigation in and of itself; it is outdated technology and a lack of training and education that wastes water. Smart irrigation design, installation, scheduling and smart irrigation contractors save water. There is an abundant resource of water efficient equipment and certified professional contractors throughout the country that save huge volumes of water by designing, installing and managing irrigation systems that run on minimal amounts of water.
I just read an article in an industry magazine that stated the average acre of landscaped Texas land receives almost 3,000,000 gallons of water every year but requires only a little more than 700,000. One example of how much water is being saved with the right contractor and equipment is a commercial property in the Galleria area that was using as much as 750,000 gallons per month during the peak season and by simply updating the control system the water consumption was reduced to 370,000 gallons per month. Not only is this healthier for the landscape (encourages deep root growth and eliminates many harmful bacteria) and saves one of our most precious resources but it saves you, the home owner, a considerable amount of money in each and every water bill.
As an industry professional offering water saving solutions I find when it comes to upgrading irrigation systems that most home owners are worried about the cost of making these changes. The truth of the matter is that these upgrades or retro-fits are not all that expensive and they pay for themselves in a relatively short amount of time. So why on earth would someone choose to waste water, damage their landscape and throw money away? Ready or not, laws are coming down the pike; there are a great many places in the country, to include counties right here in Texas, that require smart controllers in order to operate the irrigation system. This change will happen but if you wait until laws are passed you risk fines and/or losing your landscape by not being able to run your system. I urge you to consider whether you can afford to wait, to waste water and to waste money. I feel very strongly that twenty years from now we will look back at this period and wonder what we were thinking throwing water away like this. Hopefully it is not too late.
How is my irrigation system wasting water?
Irrigation systems waste water in a great many ways and with water rates expected to more than double over the next few years the time to act is now. Over-watering is the number one waste. Home owners are not educated in irrigation and it costs them. The ground reaches a saturation point and once it reaches this point all water added will find another place to go. This is what is called run-off. Too much water is harmful to plants and grass. When water stays pooled up at the surface, plant roots do not grow as deep as they should. The excess water also brings various kinds of mould, algae and bacteria that can infect your entire lawn and invite other unwanted pests as well. Properly watered plants replace only the water lost to evaporation or transpiration (what we in the industry call ET or evapotranspiration). A number of new controllers on the market will monitor this process and determine when your landscape needs water.
Watering during daylight hours or while it is raining or cold also waste water. The sun evaporates a lot of the water put down during the day and the wind carries it away. Watering at night avoids these issues and saves a considerable amount of water. Having a rain or freeze sensor installed is also very important so as to avoid watering at times it is not needed.
Landscape changes over time and this often leads to problems for your irrigation system. Did a shrub grow in front of a sprinkler head preventing it from spraying the area it was intended to? Do you have beds and grass watering at the same time? Maybe a broken or missing nozzle? The wrong type of nozzle in the wrong area? A broken pipe? Poor or uneven coverage? These things all lead to large amounts of wasted water. One broken pipe in the back yard could easily be spilling as much as 20 gallons per minute. If your system was on for 30 minutes last night you could have lost 600 gallons of water. If your system came on three times in a week then that would be 1,800 gallons and over 7,000 gallons in a month. How often do you see water flowing down the street because from an irrigation system? What about sprinkler heads watering the driveway, the house, the sidewalk, the porch or the neighbor’s lawn? Your money is literally flowing down the street.
Ok, so what do I do about it?
Well, you start with a certified, licensed professional. Stop using the guy that mows your yard to check your system. Texas is rampant with unlicensed irrigation guys that do not design smart systems, do not pull permits and do not get their work inspected because it is not up to code. Sprinklers and all that goes with them; hydraulics, evapotranspiration, matched precipitation rates, etc are a lot more complex than just digging a trench and putting in some pipe. Many people can install a system that sprays water but understanding the water and how to apply it is something else entirely… so when you make the choice to save a few dollars by going with the jack of all trades, there is a good chance that you are spending tenfold in your water bill and repair costs.
Once you have found a licensed professional, get a water audit. Water audits do not cost much money they identify the waste in your system and provide value in solutions that will bring you both short and long term savings. Audits point directly to where water savings can be achieved. These solutions will pay for themselves over a fairly short amount of time.
Audits, upgrades and retrofits are not the only steps you must take however. Efficient irrigation requires a quality design, excellent water management skills and routine maintenance. Irrigation systems include valves and solenoids, wires, nozzles and fitting; lots of small working parts that move every day and they need to be maintained just like your car engine or anything else. A little education and an ounce of prevention are all that are needed. These tune-ups greatly improve water coverage resulting in both better plant growth and water savings. Give us a call today to find out about our commercial and residential irrigation maintenance packages or to schedule a water audit. You will be glad that you did; for the savings in your water bill, for the revitalization of your landscape, but mostly for protecting our most precious resource… water.