Technology Improves Water Management

A revolutionary watering system that can save up to 60 percent in water costs for park systems and golf courses continues to grow in popularity — just as awareness of water use continues to grow in the American mind. By using computers to determine just how much water different sections of land need, the system can quickly save millions of gallons of water. And when rains come, no labor is needed to manually turn off the sprinklers.

Although computerized watering systems have been around for several years, interest in them has just recently grown, said John Williams, product manager for Toro’s Irrigation Division. The company now has systems in every state, and their value is being noticed around the world.

“We have seen savings in water bills of up to 60 percent,” he said. “Typical savings are in the range of 35 to 40 percent, which is still significant.” Toro’s Network 8000 was the first automated system to use agronomic principles in determining watering needs, he said.

Similar products by other manufacturers are now on the market, as well. By monitoring the environment, the Network 8000 can pinpoint water needs. Its computer calculates an evapo-transpiration value (E.T.) based on information it receives from a weather station. This E.T. value takes into account evaporation from the soil and the amount of moisture given off, or transpired, by plants. Several different factors are figured into this E.T. value every day, Williams said, including humidity, wind speed, temperature and solar radiation.

Additionally, the soil type, compaction and slope of the land for each sprinkler grouping are added in before the computer determines final watering needs. Rainfall is automatically added to the calculation. The city of Denver, Colo., is the largest municipality currently using Toro’s Network 8000, said Dorothy Borland, senior water conservation analyst. And the savings in one year alone has been impressive. The city placed nine of its parks on the system last summer. Compared to a base period from the three previous summers, the new system saved about 30 percent on water usage, she said, or a whopping 30 million gallons of water.

This spring alone, by shutting down the system during a rainy 17-day stretch, the city saved another 19 million gallons. Before the new system was installed, park superintendents had to decide whether to expend the eight hours of manpower needed to turn off all the sprinkler systems manually, she said. And a day or two later, without more rain, the process would have to be repeated. Now, a flick of a switch accomplishes the same thing. “From a public relations standpoint, it’s been great,” Borland said of the new system. “People just hate to see sprinklers going during a rain storm.” Nine more city parks went on the system this summer, she said, bringing a total of 4,000 acres onto the Network 8000. And three of the city’s golf courses now use the system. Eventually, plans are to have the entire park system computerized.

Watering parks and golf courses may seem a simple process, but when technological advances are added, the dynamics grow. And when combined with water-saving practices at home, that means a lot more water for everyone in the future.

Earth Tip: Water your lawn during the mornings or evenings to reduce evaporation loss.

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