06.03.14Alan Harris

8 Ways to Detect an Irrigation Leak

Alluvial PatternThe debris on the sidewalk in an alluvial pattern might be an irrigation leak. In this case the irrigation head blew off as evidenced by the small filter in front of the shrub in the middle.

Irrigation systems usually run when most people are asleep so how can you tell if you have an irrigation leak? UF/IFAS Miami U.C.U. (Urban Conservation Unit) reminded me there is a “fine line between poor drainage, over irrigation & irrigation leaks.” However, since none of these are desirable, you need to investigate further if you see any of the geological signs below on your property.

Old Faithful

Unless you are drilling a well, water shooting up in the air is not a good sign. A hole in a mainline will run continuously and is usually obvious, but a broken irrigation head will only run when the zone cycles. Since more water is released from a broken irrigation head than a properly functioning irrigation head it can lead to the next three symptoms.

Niagara Falls

Water flowing over a curb when it is not raining is not a good sign. Any water flowing over a curb from irrigation is water being wasted and is a sign of over irrigation, a broken irrigation head or poor drainage.

Mississippi Delta

If you remember your middle or high school class on geology you will recall when the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico the sediment is deposited in an alluvial fan pattern.  An alluvial fan pattern on a sidewalk or parking lot could be a sign of a broken irrigation head.

Grand Canyon

As previously mentioned a broken irrigation head releases more water, which shoots up in the air and falls back to earth with a substantial amount of destructive energy. Depending on the type of soil and vegetation there can be erosion. If the start of the erosion is near an irrigation head it may be cracked, broken or have a loose connection at the base.

The Grass is Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

Darker green spots or taller grass around an irrigation head is usually a sign of a problem. The irrigation head is likely cracked, broken or clogged. Green spots in the grass away from an irrigation head is likely just from extra nitrogen usually from animal urine.

Green Slimy Curbs

If a slimy fungus starts to form on the curb you may be over irrigating…a lot or have a slow irrigation leak. To check for a slow irrigation leak read abouth The Spins below.

Trickle Down Effect

If you notice a little bit of water steadily coming out of an irrigation head long after the system has turned off you may have a leaking irrigation valve. Most of the time irrigation valves work well. However, over time the diaphragm or solenoid in an irrigation valve can fail or debris can block the diaphragm from fully closing.

Download | YouTube Converter | Advanced Video Downloader


The Spins

If you have a separate irrigation meter or sub meter, open the box and look for a small red or black dial or triangle. If it moves when the irrigation is not on you have an irrigation leak.

Technological Alert for Irrigation Leaks

If you follow the Best Management Practice (BMP) recommended by the Irrigation Association you already have a water meter dedicated to measuring only landscape water use and a meter with a flow rate output signal for interfacing to a smart controller to help detect leaks and manage water use.

If you liked this post about how to detect and find an irrigation leak please leave a comment, share it with a friend, check out my previous posts , follow me on Twitter @h2oMatters and check out water stories I am reading on Flipboard:



Posts you may also like

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.


Refresh Image


  1. Tuesday, 1:20 Tom Reynolds, CID, CLIA, TSP

    It is not clear who the audience is for this piece. I appreciate the intent, and only wish to bring another, more tenable I argue, approach to the workers maintaining and regulating these vital pieces of our living communities. Those end-users who do it themselves could be reminded also..

    If each zone could be flow monitored without infeasible expense, we would be golden, agreed? And I mean with significant accuracy.

    At the end of construction, and according to Certified Irrigation Designer construction documents and specifications, each control zone could be bench marked for flow and pressure. Each zone, downstream of the valve includes a flow monitoring “spool.” Remove the spool, insert the temporary/mobile flow sensor, record flows and pressures over a Friday and a Saturday, compile and report the results 2-4 times annually. There. That integrates all the hydraulics of a control zone.

    One device/assembly to benchmark and track control zone flow and pressure over time. GPI makes the critical device. A quality pressure gauge costs nearly as much, and is vital for drip/micro, the future of irrigation.

  2. Tuesday, 1:42 Alan Harris

    @Tom – thanks for your comment. To clarify this piece is geared for the end user. Technology can and hopefully eventually take us to a point where visual inspection is only required when the system has notified the tech or end user of a problem on a zone. Until then, the more eyes watching for irrigation leaks and breaks the better.

  3. Wednesday, 8:08 AJ

    In the area that I live we have taken the leaking water system further with our Stray Water Program at the municipality that I work at. The issue we face is that there are springs in the area and sometimes it is difficult to tell if the flowing water or the suddenly appearing puddle in your lawn is a leak or not. Springs will flow sometimes and sometimes not. We can use equipment to listen for leaks but it is not always reliable. We have solved that problem for our customers using a simple chemical test. Now we know for certain when we have leaks so the next steps can be taken for repair. And yes I agree that the more eyes watching for leaks the better. Water loss costs!

  4. Wednesday, 11:41 Alan Harris

    @AJ – I am glad you mentioned natural springs. Springs were in my original outline, but omitted due for clarity and word count. What do you use to test the water and does it also work on systems using reclaimed water? I am interested in the Stray Water Program you mentioned. Please post a link if there is one available.

  5. Tuesday, 1:40 AJ

    Hi Alan,
    Unfortunately I don’t have a link….not yet anyway. I have written a short description on the process and test method and submitted to a magazine. Just waiting for feedback. I would be happy to share the information then.

© 2015 ValleyCrest Landscape Companies