The 3 M’s: Manage, Maintain and Minimize

September 12, 2012 -  By
Logo: Kevin Oglesby

By Kevin Oglesby, CLIA

Why? That is a question I ask myself almost every day of the week. Why do we continue to water at 4 p.m. on 100°+ days? Why do we continue to mix rotors and spray heads? Why is  there water running down the street? Why do we have turf in right-of-ways and medians, and why do we insist on watering them during rush hour? Why do we continue to install systems that are way overpressurized, to the point that more water is misting away than is actually  hitting the landscape?
These are just a few of the questions I have about some common industry practices.
These are not new issues, but in reality they shouldn’t even exist. With all of the education opportunities that the Green Industry provides and the advancements in technology that assist in applying water when and where it belongs, then why do they still exist?
Manufacturers are continually working to improve their products. Distributors (and manufacturers) are providing educational opportunities for learning proper system management and maintenance. The Irrigation Association, American Society of Irrigation Consultants, American Society of Landscape Architects, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—just to
name a few—are all working to improve Green Industry standards and practices.
Despite all of these opportunities, the message just doesn’t seem to be getting through in many  cases. The problem often moves beyond bad design or installation, and can sometimes be attributed to a plain lack of knowledge, understanding or apathy.
Knowledge is power 
I have seen systems that were designed and installed with the latest in high-efficiency  equipment, soil-moisture sensors, rain shutoff devices, water-efficient rotator nozzles, and flow sensing and pressure regulating heads—and in less than a month, the maintenance contractor’s irrigation specialist had replaced a number of the rotators with 10-, 12-, and 15-ft. spray nozzles. I asked one specialist why he hadn’t replaced them with the correct nozzles. His reply came as no surprise: “Rotators are too expensive!”
I’ll be the first to admit that some of the new technology is pricey, but to me this behavior just suggests there is a need for more training and practice in the effective articulation of the value these types of products can offer toward a properly managed, water-efficient system.
I also asked him if he had changed the flow settings on the controller to recognize the additional flow on those valves. He hadn’t. It turns out that there was also a problem with the controller; it would only run those repaired zones for two minutes, and then shut off. No matter what he did, it wouldn’t run any longer.
It’s interesting that this individual hadn’t attended the controller training he had been invited to just a week earlier. This gentleman is employed by one of the largest and most professional national contractors, and he’s an irrigation specialist.
Instead of having a “mow, blow and go” mentality, we should “manage, maintain and minimize”:
  • Manage a poorly designed or installed site by conducting a site inspection to identify problem areas water wasting inefficiencies. Complete required adjustments and repairs to get the system working properly, and then perform an irrigation audit to determine the efficiency of the system and make recommendations for water efficient products or upgrades.
  • Maintain a system properly according to best management practices, and use periodic irrigation audits and adjustments to ensure the system is operating effectively over time.
  • Minimize the use of water, labor, and often the cost (over time) required to maintain your system with simple, yet effective products, such as check valves or pressure-regulating sprinkler head to reduce misting. More advanced products, such as smart controllers or soil moisture sensors, should also be considered if the site and budget warrant it.
If you follow these “3 M’s,” you’re off to a good start. It’s also important to remember that not all water efficient technologies are expensive and complex, so be sure to familiarize yourself with your complete range of options.
If you find yourself in a quandary, contact your local distributor or manufacturer representative for assistance, or enroll in a workshop or seminar—there are plenty to choose from, and the skills you can learn are well worth the time investment.
Based in Phoenix, Kevin Oglesby, CLIA, serves as a water management specialist for Ewing Irrigation. He can be reached at
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