Water is critical to a healthy landscape but too much or ineffective distribution can be detrimental to plant material and turf or just be a waste of money and one of our most precious natural resources. Irrigation systems are a way to supplement natural rainfall but are not meant to completely take its place. With the ever increasing cost of water and the ever decreasing supply, it is imperative that we use it wisely.
The irrigation industry is well aware of the challenges presented with the growing concern surrounding water use. Although we in the southeast have only recently become conscientious about conservation, it has been a front burner issue in California and the arid regions of the southwest. Irrigation suppliers have been working on new products that will help to manage water use and at the same time make it more available to the plants and turf that we are trying to grow.
Irrigation controllers are one of the best ways to manage the effectiveness of an irrigation system. The controllers/clocks that you are probably using only allow you to factor time into the settings: which days it will run, what time it will start, and how long each zone will run. Through this method, you are applying gallons of water to the landscape but are not sure if it’s the correct amount or if it is even being absorbed into the ground. If you’re lucky, you may have a rain stat that will turn the system off in the event of some rainfall.
Modern controllers or “Smart Clocks” allow you to factor in conditions such as soil type, plant type, slope, and head type. They also take into consideration precipitation, humidity, and evapotransporation (ET) rates for the zip code in which the clock is located. All this is accomplished through the interaction of the clock with a weather station. The weather station is located within a 600 ft. radius of the controller, operates either remotely or wired, and instantaneously relays current weather data to the clock. The weather station is equipped with a rain and freeze sensor. The controller factors in all the data and determines the amount of water in inches needed for each zone and runs them only long enough to avoid run-off. The “Smart Clocks” contain non-volatile memory which allows it to keep time in the event of a power failure. A tracking device is also included which enables you to locate valves by “chattering” the solenoid thus saving time and money if repairs are necessary.
Quite possibly the most surprising aspect of the “Smart Clocks” is their cost. Previous attempts at controllers which used current weather data were so cost prohibitive that only golf courses and large municipalities were able to justify them. Modern day “Smart Clocks” can cost anywhere from $690.00 to $1500.00 (installed cost) for up to a 24 zone controller. You will not only realize a return on your investment within the first year but also have the satisfaction in knowing that your cutting edge efforts are utilizing our limited water sources wisely and efficiently.