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Three companies share how you can save when you revamp your irrigation systems

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Maas Verde Landscape Restoration worked to fix a nonfunctioning irrigation system at a popular Texas state park. (Photo courtesy of Maas Verde Landscape Restoration)
Maas Verde Landscape Restoration worked to fix a nonfunctioning irrigation system at a popular Texas state park. (Photo courtesy of Maas Verde Landscape Restoration)

As municipalities across the country react to water restrictions, irrigation professionals step up to help their clients reduce water use and, in turn, save money.

Late this month, the Irrigation Association welcomes its members to San Antonio, Texas, for the annual Irrigation Show and Education Week, to share what is new and improved for the industry. With more than 225 exhibitors at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, the best of the irrigation industry will be on display in the Alamo City.

To celebrate the good work of the irrigation industry, Landscape Management visited with two irrigation companies in Texas and one in California: Maas Verde Landscape Restoration in Austin, Texas, Southern Botanical in Dallas and Harvest Landscape Enterprises in Anaheim, Calif. These companies share how they helped their clients revamp an existing irrigation system and got mas verde — with less water — por favor (more green — with less water — please).

Maas Verde

Diagnosing the cause of a broken irrigation system for 2,600 square-foot turf area near Balmorhea State Park’s famous spring-fed swimming pool proved to be a major challenge. (Photo courtesy of Maas Verde Landscape Restoration)
Diagnosing the cause of a broken irrigation system for 2,600 square-foot turf area near Balmorhea State Park’s famous spring-fed swimming pool proved to be a major challenge. (Photo courtesy of Maas Verde Landscape Restoration)

Company: Maas Verde
Project: Balmorhea State Park
Location: Toyahvale, Texas

Balmorhea State Park is a 46-acre property with a large spring-fed swimming pool in Toyahvale, Texas. About 15 million gallons of water flow through the pool from the San Solomon Springs to about 90 irrigation canals. Texas Parks & Wildlife Department estimates more than 200,000 people will visit the park this year.

“This is the most reliable water source in west Texas in that arid portion of the state,” says Ted Maas, owner and operator of Maas Verde Landscape Restoration.

The Civilian Conservation Corps built Balmorhea State Park in the 1930s. A nonprofit that donated trees near the pool approached Maas Verde to fix a faulty irrigation system for the trees. Maas says park maintenance hand-watered the trees when a previous irrigation contractor left mid-project, but that approach was not sustainable. The other challenge: the nonprofit wanted the installation completed within a week as part of an event.

“(The previous contractor) tried to hook up a 1/2-inch line to an existing zone that already didn’t work,” he says. “They were just hooking up this 1/2-inch line to an existing lateral line on a zone. The guy just ran 40 feet of pipe and then stopped and then disappeared and was never heard from again.”

Maas Verde installed bubblers for the young trees, but Maas says he noticed the bubblers were in the same zone as rotors.

“We’ve got rotor heads that are watering grass that have different watering requirements than bubblers for trees,” he says. “Trees have different watering requirements, and we don’t want to overwater or underwater either one of those.”

Maas says a change order approved the installation of a separate valve and zone for the tree bubblers. Crews worked in 107-degree F heat to complete the project on time.

Phase 2

Then, the park approached Maas Verde with a new challenge: to fix a broken irrigation system for a 2,600-square-foot turf area near the pool. Maas says the park superintendent estimated the irrigation system hadn’t worked for at least a year or two.

Maas Verde Landscape Restoration worked to fix a nonfunctioning irrigation system at a popular Texas state park. (Photo courtesy of Maas Verde Landscape Restoration)
Maas Verde Landscape Restoration worked to fix a nonfunctioning irrigation system at a popular Texas state park. (Photo courtesy of Maas Verde Landscape Restoration)

“It was a pretty massive area and no real direction (for the system design),” he says. “There were a couple of documents that just seemed like they weren’t proving to be true, which was throwing me through a loop.”

Maas Verde replaced damaged irrigation heads with irrigation heads with swing joints.

“If you have a swing joint on it, it’s a more flexible piece of pipe, that if a mower hits it, allows the unit to flex versus just breaking upon impact,” Maas says.

Maas says crews struggled to troubleshoot the source of the faulty system. He says as he worked to trace wires, he found another signal a couple of feet away.

“I find a box that’s been buried 8 inches, and there’s another valve there, an old valve, and it was one that was missed by the former contractors that had replaced all the valves a couple of years back or updated all the valves. I was about to just cap the thing and just torch it and then I realized, that’s the valve or zone that’s not working hydraulically.”

Maas says crews fixed the wiring and repaired some breaks in the line. Getting the irrigation system functioning again for the turf near the pool is a major success, he says.

“That was a huge focal point for the park and for user experience,” he says. “To have that area now? … The irrigation works. It’s green. It doesn’t look like a compacted desert moonscape on that side of the park.”

Project by the numbers:

  • Target treatment area of eroded lawn surface: 2,600 square feet
  • Total area of project: 13.1 acres
  • PVC installed/replaced: 215 linear feet plus joints and fittings (including numerous 3-inch, 4-inch pipe repairs and 3-inch valve install)
  • Underground faults traced and resolved: 25 (including 3-inch and 4-inch faults with T joints)

Southern Botanical

A public improvement district north of Fort Worth contacted Southern Botanical to help fix an ailing irrigation system that used three times more water in 2022 than it had in the previous years. (Photo courtesy of Southern Botanical)
A public improvement district north of Fort Worth contacted Southern Botanical to help fix an ailing irrigation system that used three times more water in 2022 than it had in the previous years. (Photo courtesy of Southern Botanical)

Company: Southern Botanical
Project: PID-6
Location: Forth Worth, Texas

Southern Botanical, No. 72 on the 2023 LM150 list, started working on PID-6, a public improvement district north of Fort Worth a little more than a year ago. Cities and municipalities in Texas can create PIDs with assessments placed on the property owners to fund community enhancements.

Properties in PID-6 include multiple homeowner associations, parks, common spaces and trails. PID-6 encompasses 6 million square feet, with about 140 acres of turf.

“It’s a very large property with four main intersections or four main streets that surround the PID, and then within that you have the interior parks that we have to take care of,” says Nate Battenfield, project manager with Southern Botanical.

PID-6 approached Southern Botanical to fix its ailing irrigation system which PID-6 General Manager Lillian Collins said used three times as much water in 2022 as in previous years. Southern Botanical now manages maintenance for the PID.

“They were spending a lot of money every month in irrigation,” says Brian Schendzielos, commercial branch manager with Southern Botanical. “A lot of that was from not reporting what was happening, so they didn’t have clear reports to see what was broken. They didn’t have monthly inspections done.”

Dialing in

Schendzielos says the team at Southern Botanical knew having better access to real-time data would get PID-6 off on the right foot. The team at Southern Botanical approached the irrigation upgrades in sections, including irrigation system repairs such as standardizing the irrigation controllers, installing pressure-regulating heads and creating 725 hydrozones. The company added HydroPoint Baseline controllers and Weathermatic’s SmartLink to provide Southern Botanical with solid data.

“Just for immediate impact and for budgetary considerations, those were the lowest hanging fruit that we could adjust to be able to save them a significant amount of money on their water bills,” he says.

Schendzielos says the switch to SmartLink controllers where possible allows Southern Botanical to turn the system on or off without sending an irrigation tech to the site each time. And over the course of a few months, the team maximized the system’s efficiencies.

“We’ve got two controller models that could really give us some pretty good data with what’s happening,” he says.

Battenfield says communication with Collins is a major part of his role.

“I probably talk to Lillian more than I talked to anybody else in my family,” he jokes. “It’s that communication back and forth, letting her know ‘This is where we’re at today. This is where we’re working.’ It’s a lot of involvement in moving pieces. We keep her up to date.”

Battenfield says he also drives with Collins weekly to look over the property and talk about anything needed from a management or irrigation standpoint.

So far, the team at Southern Botanical says these upgrades helped PID-6 save about $79,000 in the year since the upgrades.

Upgrades to PID-6’s irrigation system include:

  • 34 valve replacements
  • 20 controller upgrades to Smartlink
  • 16 main line repairs
  • 15 lateral line repairs
  • 32 rotor replacements
  • 36 head replacements
  • 2 DCVA (backflow preventer) replacements
  • 2 Baseline controller board replacements
  • 3 Baseline substation controller panel replacements
  • 3 Baseline master valve bi-coder replacements
  • 3 Baseline controller antenna replacements

Harvest Landscape Enterprises

Creating separate lines for turf and for planters and adding Hunter MP Rotators at 45 PSI helped this HOA reduce its water use by 40 percent. (Photo: Harvest Landscape Enterprises)
Creating separate lines for turf and for planters and adding Hunter MP Rotators at 45 PSI helped this HOA reduce its water use by 40 percent. (Photo: Harvest Landscape Enterprises)

Company: Harvest Landscape Enterprises
Project: Orange Home Owners Association
Location: Orange, Calif.

Thanks to an irrigation overhaul at a HOA that uses reclaimed water, Harvest Landscape Enterprises helped cut the HOA’s water bills by 40 percent, according to Max Moreno, vice president of water conservation for Harvest Landscape Enterprises, No. 78 on the 2023 LM150 list.

“The community is on reclaimed water, and they have a lot of turf everywhere, and they were looking for a way to reduce the water bill even more without having to sacrifice the turf,” he says.

Moreno says he approached this project in several ways. First, Harvest Landscape Enterprises added Weathermatic smart controllers. Next, they added points of connection (POCs) that have a matching valve flow sensor. Finally, they completed an entire irrigation system overhaul including dedicated lines for turf and planters and the installation of drip irrigation.

The system, installed in the 1980s, watered both the turf and planters and caused a significant amount of water waste, according to Moreno.

“Just to keep that aesthetics of the grass alive, (they would) overwater all these planters to the point where it’s causing a little bit of water damage against the building just because of the saturation on the planters,” he says.

He overhauled the entire irrigation system to separate out the irrigation lines for turf and planters. Harvest Landscape Enterprises added Weathermatic smart controllers and Hunter Pro-Spray sprinkler heads regulated to 45 PSI and Hunter MP Rotators.

From an integrated pest management standpoint, the targeted irrigation helped improve plant health in the planters, Moreno says.

“Some of those planters that have been overwatered for so many years are producing healthier roots now. Overwatering causes a lot of disease to plants and uses a lot of manpower because overwatering also creates more weeds,” he says. “Sometimes it encourages more growth than we want.”

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Harvest Landscape Enterprises gave this irrigation system a complete overhaul to slash water use. (Graphic: Harvest Landscape Enterprises)

Moreno says as a result, Harvest Landscape Enterprises uses less chemical applications to maintain the planters.

Realistic expectations

The project cost was a challenge, Moreno says, acknowledging he worked with the client to establish a realistic budget to accomplish the overhaul.

Moreno adds the work on the project took place during the pandemic, which hurt the supply chain and made finishing on time a challenge — one Harvest met head-on. Crews wrapped up the project a week ahead of schedule.

“The clients were really happy, but not only that, the property management company saw this as a success,” he says.

He says the property manager wants to use this project as an example to other communities to show the potential these projects have on water use.

“We don’t know the savings, we don’t know the potential of a lot of these communities until they take a stab at it with professionals that know what to do,” Moreno says the property management company told him.

Moreno says he’s proud of how the project turned out, noting the landscaping and turf look great thanks to a more targeted approach. Moreno says preinstallation, the HOA used roughly 8,127,768 gallons of water. After the first year, the HOA’s water use was 6,698,340 gallons. By the third year, Moreno says the HOA’s overall water usage is 5,612,244 gallons of water.

“It really ended up being a successful conversion ROI quicker than expected. I had predicted four to five years, and within the second year, we were already breaking even,” he says.

Project by the numbers:

  • Pre-installation water use: 8,127,768 gallons
  • Three years post-installation water use: 5,612,244 gallons
  • Percent reduction in water bill: 40
  • Retrofitted new pipe: 10,000 feet
  • Hunter MP Rotators: 1,600
  • Drip irrigation: 58,000 feet

Christina Herrick headshot (Photo: LM Staff)

Christina Herrick

Christina Herrick is a former Editor for Landscape Management. A Journalist graduate from Ohio Northern University, Christina is known for sharing her insightful experiences on the road with her audience.

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