What the future holds for water management

January 18, 2022 -  By

Water management is a term kicked around in various forms throughout the industry. Experts say the future of landscape water management is more technology and a more nuanced approach to the resource. Here to share how they see the future of water management is Paul Schultz, irrigation resource manager for Cagwin & Dorward in Petaluma, Calif., and Dave Hanson, executive vice president for the Sperber Landscape Cos. in Westlake Village, Calif.

(Photo: MaYcaL/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

(Photo: MaYcaL/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Expect higher demands from water agencies

In states such as California and municipalities like Las Vegas, water agencies expect property owners to follow a water allocation. Many municipalities are putting a premium on exceeding a water budget. Expect this tiered “the more you use, the more you pay” structure to continue.

“The future really starts with a water budget or an allocation,” Hanson says. “The allocation is based on the square footage and landscape and some crop coefficient, relative to the weather of the area that dictates how much water is used by plants, landscape plants or crop plants. Some areas of the country are very sophisticated with putting together water budgets and allocations, especially in places like Southern California. Many other areas are following suit to make sure that each individual landscape property has an allocation.”

As water availability becomes more complicated, Hanson says, landscape companies can expect cost considerations from property owners to become more significant. With cost considerations could come changes, such as opting for low-water plant material, upgrading irrigation systems or changing the company managing the irrigation system.

“It really takes a cooperative effort between the people who are managing landscapes, the people who are selling water — your water agencies — and the property owners to really say, ‘What is it going to take to meet the water allocation for this landscape?’” he says.

Hanson sees building relationships with water agencies as playing a bigger role for all landscape and irrigation companies, especially as expectations increase.

“Coming in the future is more legislation dictating plan approvals and water budgets for installations,” he says. “In California, you have to have a water budget for the landscape before the plan is approved. It is dictating the amount of water that can actually go on that landscape in advance.”

Schultz says these water budgets and allocations will dictate what an irrigation technician and company will need to know about water use in the future.

“The landscaper will need to be better versed in managing the water versus just going out and fixing things,” he says.

Expect more technology and the need for higher-skilled technicians

This demand for information and precise water management, Schultz says, is a great opportunity to introduce technology into irrigation sites. Hanson agrees.

“There is just so much new technology to manage water, whether it be moisture sensors; smart controllers, which can dictate the amount of water that’s applied to the landscape based on the previous day’s weather; flow management, which sets off an alarm or can shut down the system, in the case of a stuck valve or water main break; or remote tracking through a handheld device,” Hanson says.

Much like gas and electric meters, Hanson speculates the future for water meters will be remote water meter reading and management. This includes the ability to micromanage water use on a geographic site remotely, too.

Schultz says he’s interested in how to retrofit existing irrigation systems to some of this new technology because system upgrade costs scare off many homeowners and commercial site managers, but more companies are looking at affordable solutions.

As technology becomes more sophisticated, so does the need for more sophisticated technicians and irrigation site managers. Labor is already tight in the green industry, and new irrigation technology means the need for workers with more computer skills.

“There’s an extreme shortage of qualified people, not just at the irrigation technician level, but at the irrigation manager level,” Hanson says. “A company may have 40 or 50 sites that are being managed remotely. That’s a lot of stuff to be able to manage even with simpler software. So, those are some of the things that are a limiting factor of going forward in our ability to manage water.”

Schultz says Cagwin & Dorward emphasizes the California Landscape Contractors Association Water Management Certification program. All landscape account managers complete this certification.

“We want them to be fully aware that landscape maintenance, while maintaining the look and appearance of the site, is also about managing the water,” he says.

Schultz says a big challenge for the industry is to tout the knowledge behind those certifications and what an investment in training means to the client. He also hopes water agencies will promote the investment that companies make in these programs.

“That way, the landscaper and the landscape companies that are doing the right thing get the opportunities that they deserve, and those who are not will start to see the writing on the wall,” he says. “And if they really want to keep their business afloat and have opportunities, they’re really going to have to (get certified).”

Hanson agrees, saying education is going to be the name of the game down the road for the irrigation industry.

“The future is much more sophisticated than it’s ever been, which means the technology has to continue to evolve, which means the people who are managing the technology have to continue to evolve as well,” he says.

Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the editor of Landscape Management magazine. Known for her immersive approach to travel from coast to coast in her previous stint as senior editor of American Fruit Grower Magazine, she uses social media (Twitter/Instagram @EditorHerrick) to share her experiences on the road with her audience. Herrick has a degree in journalism from Ohio Northern University. She can be reached at cherrick@northcoastmedia.net.

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