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How the irrigation industry met and continues to meet challenges

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home irrigation. Photo: iStock.com/bradwieland
Water rules. Regulation is one of the major challenges the irrigation industry faces. Photo: iStock.com/bradwieland
Danny Smith
Danny Smith

California has had a unique and increased responsibility to develop sustainable indoor and outdoor water management practices and standards since the early 1950s. As part of the state’s shift from an abundant agriculture industry to the post-war era, the region’s most attractive counties became saturated with master-planned communities, parks, schools and supporting infrastructure to keep up with a growing population and demand for a suburban lifestyle. 

The compounding population boom of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s brought thousands of acres of city parks, athletic fields, green belts and common areas from drawing board to development with minimal consideration that these demand millions of gallons of water to properly maintain appearance and growth.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that water conservation principles, such as adopting new irrigation technology, selecting water-conscious plant material, properly installing irrigation systems and properly training maintenance personnel began to take root in the minds of city planners, large land development companies and landscape architects. 

home irrigation. Photo: iStock.com/bradwieland
(Photo: iStock.com/bradwieland)

Challenges to adoption

While new technologies, such as remote irrigation controllers, high-efficiency nozzles, variable frequency drive pumps and drip lines, were standard and continuously improved California’s agricultural industry through the last quarter of the 1990s, it still took several years for some irrigation products such as radio/ET-based controllers, high-efficiency spray nozzles and soil moisture sensors to become available to the commercial landscape industry. 

It wasn’t until the cost of water became substantially more expensive that people considered their property’s water footprint and ways to manage it without reducing or eliminating outdoor spaces. 

Increasing water costs also resulted in the demand for landscape architects and water providers to develop and implement landscape and irrigation ordinances, codes and regulations, such as the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, to effectively manage water volume allocations and budgets based on the actual landscapes, their size and the irrigation methods used. 

Another challenge to the adoption of technology was the demand for skilled and certified irrigation technicians, specialists and water managers to install, operate and troubleshoot it.

Future view

Fortunately, eager irrigation manufacturers met many of these challenges. This boom in engineering and development budgets allowed the creation of key technologies we’ve now adopted.

These technologies include, ET-based, or maximum allowable depletion or deficit-enabled controllers, accurate flow-sensing, two-wire low voltage decoder to solenoid activation and low-radius, high-efficiency rotary nozzles. 

Implementing water-conserving technologies allows us to continue to enjoy our lush, yet sustainable spaces. We also can continue to justify the need for furthering irrigation technologies and their adoption and implementation due to the continued rise in water costs. 

To ensure these technologies continue to operate as designed, we also must ensure proper training and certification of irrigation technicians and specialists.

As water costs continue to increase alongside the demand for sustainable outdoor spaces, landscape management companies that invest in proper irrigation technician and specialist training and certifications will become leaders. 

Companies that pursue both internal and external certifications and choose to invest in quality water management programs via the creation of new roles such as irrigation technician trainers, certified water managers and employee continuing-education program administrators will help to shape our environment by conserving millions of gallons of water. 

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Danny Smith

Smith is the director of water management for Park West Landscape Management in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

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