08.02.11Alan Harris

10 Reasons I Hate Irrigation Systems…and what you can do to make me love them

MistingHigh pressure in the irrigation system results in misting which wastes water Irrigation System Watering SidewalkIrrigation system wastes water as it runs down the sidewalk. --Photo courtesy of @CoronaTools

Common Problems with Irrigation Systems and Simple Solutions

1. Run off – once irrigation water starts to run off from the landscape onto drives and sidewalks the soil has reached the saturation point and can not absorb any more water. The amount of time this takes to occur varies based on head type, soil type, compaction and slope.

SOLUTION: Use a “cycle and soak” feature where the zone runs for a shorter amount of time, but may run more than once per watering cycle.

2. Misting – next time your service provider conducts a wet check of the irrigation system, watch your fixed spray heads to see if there is a misting effect. Misting is a result of high pressure and as much as 50% of your water is evaporating into the atmosphere before it can get to your landscape.

SOLUTION: Install a pressure reducer on the mainline to control the pressure. If installing new heads or upgrading a system, use pressure regulating heads for even better control of pressure resulting from grade change. (Water pressure at the bottom of the hill is higher than the top of the hill)

3. Irrigation System Running when Raining – If it is raining for more than 5 minutes the irrigation system does NOT need to be running.

SOLUTION: Install a rain sensor. (Were you one of the lucky ones who won a free wireless rain sensor?)

4. Broken Irrigation Heads – at a minimum a broken nozzle will emit 4 gallons a minute. If the zone is on for 10 minutes you wasted 40 gallons. If the zone runs 3X a week you wasted 120 gallons.

SOLUTION: Make sure your irrigation service provider is conducting monthly inspections by asking for the reports and look for signs of a broken head like mulch or dirt on walks or drives after the system runs.

5. Shrubs Block Irrigation Spray Pattern – When an irrigation system is first installed a 12” pop up head is usually tall enough, but as the plants mature they block the spray pattern. A shrub (or sign) blocking the spray pattern means a higher concentration of water in one area and creates a “rain shadow” where no irrigation is reaching the plant material in another area.

SOLUTION: If the irrigation head is next to the building it may be able to be changed to a fixed riser, a conversion to drip irrigation may be possible or if the plant material is well established and is in an area with ample rainfall a well established shrub bed may be able to be weaned off of irrigation.

10 Reasons didn’t fit on this blog so, TO BE CONTINUED

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Alan Harris

Alan Harris is a water management pioneer. With roots in landscape architecture, Alan has worked with irrigation throughout his career experimenting with hydrozones and a variety of high efficiency irrigation systems. Now, over thirty years in the landscape industry, Alan continues to stay apprised of the latest technology even in a sales leadership capacity as our Director of Sales Operations for our landscape maintenance division. In addition to his contributions to this blog, Alan keeps his hand in water management as a regular contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine and speaker at WaterSmart Innovations Conference.


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  1. Friday, 8:49 Jonathan Caceres

    It’s so much more eye opening to see the math and figures over a period of time of how much water is actually being wasted with these inefficiencies. Or even better, figuring out how much money you can save if these inefficiencies are addressed. Every drop counts, and the dollars spent on water add up quickly!

  2. Saturday, 12:22 Alan Harris

    @Jonathan – thanks for the comment. Depending on who supplies your water and how many leaks you have you can be wasting hundreds of dollars a month. Be sure to check out the next 5 reasons on my love/hate relationship with irrigation.

  3. Friday, 8:53 Matt Bruns

    I visted a large commerical job site where a nozzle was off a spray head. We (the contractor and I) calculated the excess flow at just under 30gpm (not a typo…30 gallons a minute). A standard US bath tub filled to the brim is 42 gallons. Using your calculations, this site would waste 900 gallons; enough water to fill over 20 tubs per week.
    Matt Bruns
    The Toro Company

  4. Friday, 2:43 Jay Guthy

    One reason I LOVE irrigation…three words…”Precison Spray Nozzles”. We all know the story, uses 30% less water, higher water usage efficiency, tigher edges and less misting and fogging. Run this with an Irritrol Climate Logic and reduce the pain that keeps you up at night!

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