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Staying current

May 14, 2015 -  By
Nozzle-spray-lookingup_rt Photo: Rain Bird

Photo: Rain Bird

Revised irrigation best practices focus on sustainability, technology and communication.

The irrigation industry is constantly evolving, whether it’s with the release of new equipment or sustainable practices.

To provide updated information for landscape irrigation contractors’ changing needs, the Irrigation Association (IA) and American Society of Irrigation Consultants (ASIC) released a new version of their Landscape Irrigation Best Management Practices (BMPs) last May.

This revised guide offers comprehensive information and guidelines for every step in the irrigation process. Here’s how the practices have changed through the years and what landscape contractors can learn from them.

BMP background

Before publishing the first BMPs, the IA and ASIC had their own guidelines.

The groups initially tried to blend the documents together, but they decided to start from scratch and create an original set of practices, which they released in 2002. They later republished the BMPs in 2005 and 2010 with minor revisions and then issued a new version in May 2014.

The newest BMPs cover irrigation system design, installation and management, plus practice guidelines for each category.
“It hopes to clarify the means, methods and technology that will reduce water use, protect water quality and sustain healthy and vibrant landscapes to meet the needs of the community,” says John Ossa, account manager, Rain Bird, and chairman of the BMPs committee.

To date, this version is the most comprehensive, says Carol Colein, executive director, ASIC. “The practices are more based on real-world issues,” she adds.

Why now?

In the past few years, the irrigation industry has seen several advancements and changes. So, the committee wanted to provide contractors with updated practices.

“As an irrigation industry, unless we can show we are truly reacting and being part of the solution, someone else is going to be writing the practices for us,” Colein says.

One area that has evolved since the last version is technology.

“Since drip irrigation, especially subsurface, works in some fundamentally different ways than conventional hardware, we added a greater level of detail in this section of the document,” Ossa says.

Sustainability has become another key topic, especially in drought-prone states, so the committee wanted to address sustainable practices.

“We can’t waste water for landscape use,” Colein adds. “Some contractors are better aware of water use than others, depending on where they are in the country.”

And the demand for sustainable practices isn’t going away.

“Pretty soon, we’ll have to justify why we are planting a tree there, have grass here or if there are other plants that would be more sustainable,” says Brent Mecham, industry development director, IA. “It’s not always the easiest, but it’s what’s best.”

Difference makers

With the new version, the experts broke down the practices into three categories: design, installation and management.
The old version included maintenance as a category, but this time they decided to include it as part of management, which is more proactive than maintenance, Mecham says.

The committee also wanted to expand on design. The design criteria were previously part of the appendix; they’re now incorporated in the base document.

In the latest version, the appendix focuses on irrigation system inspections and commissioning; landscape water budgeting; irrigation scheduling; and a controller map and station data form. The inspection information has been especially helpful when it comes to clients, Mecham says.

“The contractor has to know how to inspect the system and make sure it works with the design and will be used efficiently,” he adds.

The new BMPs also include elements addressing potential water sources that could be used for irrigation. “We’re trying to maximize the use of poor-quality water and rely less on potable water for irrigation,” Mecham says.

The BMPs now have a Consumer Bill of Rights, which is a consumer protection component. The committee outlined the rights and process to verify the presence of specified hardware and execution of services, Ossa says.

Additionally, the creators intend this version to be a living document.

“We changed the format of the document to facilitate ease of use and ease of update and revision,” Mecham says. “Our anticipation is the document will need to be updated periodically to stay relevant to emerging technology and changing demands in the marketplace.”

Since the new version came out a year ago, large property managers and municipalities have started to adopt the practices as part of their programs, he says.

Guide takeaways

Geographical location, regulations and other components may be different around the country, but the experts say they hope the BMPs can be the foundation for proper irrigation nationwide.

“We want this to become the standard, with regional modifications as necessary, so you don’t have 50 different sets of regulations and mandates for all of the states,” Colein says.

The baseline is the same across the country, so once states have those practices in place, they can regionalize them.
“These are the suggested guidelines, but there’s the opportunity to adapt them locally,” Mecham says.

No matter the contractor’s location, there are universal elements all landscape contractors should focus on with the BMPs.
“Contractors sometimes take too many liberties in the field,” Colein says. “The contractor does not generally have access to all the project design criteria and parameters, and so they may not understand the impact of deviating from the plans and specifications. This can come back to haunt them when there is a final inspection and unauthorized changes are flagged for replacement or remediation.”

Sometimes changes are warranted, so in those cases, the contractor should contact the system designer to discuss potential problems and get any changes authorized before straying from the project contract documents, she says.

Another theme in the revised BMPs is promoting communication. The designer, installer and people managing and maintaining the irrigation system need to be on the same page.

“You can have a great design, but if it’s not installed, managed and maintained properly, you have nothing, and vice versa,” Colein says. “There has to be communication at each phase, and that was the approach we took with these BMPs.”


Dowdle is an Alabama-based freelance writer.

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