Saving Water With Smart Irrigation



For four years, the state of California has experienced severe drought conditions, a situation predicted to continue “for the foreseeable future,” according to Governor Jerry Brown’s recent emergency proclamation, which calls for action from the State Water Resources Control Board and local water suppliers to “prevent waste and unreasonable use of water and to further promote conservation.”

The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada has diminished to an all-time low and groundwater levels throughout California and some western states have dropped significantly, all of which contribute to a record-breaking drought that has left the landscape—and, in some areas, the humans and animals—parched.

Because voluntary compliance with conservation efforts resulted in only an 8.6% drop in water usage, according to the Los Angeles Times,* Brown issued an executive order that directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement unprecedented water restrictions on water suppliers. His goal is a 25% reduction in potable urban usage (based on levels in 2013, the year before he declared a drought emergency) statewide through February 2016.

In order to achieve that goal, the State Water Resources Control Board followed up with rules that force cities to limit watering on public property to two days per week; implement water efficiency measures for commercial, industrial, and institutional users; prohibit irrigation with potable water of ornamental turf in public street medians; restrict runoff of potable water to adjacent properties, non-irrigated areas, walkways, roadways, parking lots, and structures; and prohibit irrigation with potable water outside newly constructed homes and buildings that is not delivered by drip or other water-saving systems. It also encourages homeowners to let their lawns die and imposes water-savings targets for the agencies and cities that supply water to California.

The focus is on reducing the amount of water used for lawns and other ornamental landscaping, which accounts for the biggest share of residential water use in California. Fines of up to $10,000 against cities or water districts that violate stateorders or fail to reach their target can be levied.

Controlling the Panic
People are panicking, says Brandon Reitmeier, director of operations at Finley’s Tree and Landcare, Inc. in Torrance, CA, but they shouldn’t. “They’re getting rebates for tearing out lawns, but you don’t need to. This is cyclical; it gets better.”

Until it does, he says Finley’s can provide a low-cost solution to reduce water consumption by 20–30% without ripping out lawns. To do that, they’re using two devices from Toro: spray head nozzles to better direct the water and smart controllers to determine the amount and timing of watering, based on weather. A more controlled spray generates less waste.

The weather-based irrigation controller with remote costs an average of $35–$50 per station, but rebates typically cover both material and labor costs. “We install at no cost because we get the rebate for the precision nozzles,” explains Reitmeier. He estimates that they can save the customer as much as 30% on the bill every month. “The customer gets the discount, we get the business, and the state gets conservation.”

Finley’s has been installing them since July 2014, after Toro contacted them about using precision nozzles for water conservation on irrigation projects. Since then, they’ve added so many new customers to their existing base of maintenance accounts, 95% of which are for commercial buildings and home owners associations (HOAs), that Reitmeier says they had to hire extra people.

They also formed the Water Efficiency Technology (WET) Team, a subdivision within their maintenance division dedicated to water conservation. The team has gathered each city’s requirements, and researched water conservation alternatives for irrigation systems and the latest developments in technologies, as well as available rebates for implementing water conservation programs. “The technology is changing so fast,” acknowledges Reitmeier, “but we’re sticking with Toro. We understand it, the team knows it and we get support from Toro. Our proposals say we are backed by Toro.”

The commitment often begins with a water audit. Reitmeier recalls one of their first customers worrying about the restriction. “We did a water survey on his property. Our proposal cost was $10,000, but with rebates, the net cost was only $4,300.” Another proposal for a second customer in an inland location was $9,500, with a net cost of $6,000 after rebate.

In Culver City, where Finley’s installed eight new controllers, both 12- and 24-station controllers with central computers mounted on the wall, the $4,795 proposed cost was reduced to just $800 after rebate. Noting that some companies make extra money by collecting the rebates from local water municipalities, Reitmeier says they pass the savings along to the customer.

The rebate isn’t the only savings the customer gets. “Customers either need to reduce consumption [to comply with the mandate] or upgrade their system,” explains Reitmeier. Often, they can achieve 30% reduction of water usage just by replacing the nozzles.

They need to. Reitmeier says enforcement is about to start in earnest, with some cities issuing fines, putting a governor on the meter or charging money for going over the limit to reach the desired reduction rate. WE_bug_web

  • Kevin McCaleb.

    I really hate when information articles are used to promote brands. In truth almost every manufacturer out there has nozzles that reduce waste: Hunter MPs Rainbird’s R series and the aforementioned Toro. Every manufacturer also has their version of smart controllers as well. I would think that these articles would be more useful describing the processes necessary to gain those 30% results. i.e. having an audit performed by a certified auditor, insuring that the necessary modifications to the system are made and more importantly maintained year after year. After all, no matter how smart your contrioller, if your system is crap so to is your efficiency.


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