07.15.14Alan Harris

Is Smart Irrigation Really the Smart Choice

Smart Irrigation Month Coloring Book CoverYou know how much we love Edutainment. Check out this Smart Irrigation Coloring Book from the Irrigation Association.

July is the Irrigation Association’s Smart Irrigation Month. This year the Irrigation Association used a Thunderclap campaign to promote Smart Irrigation Month. Since this was the first year they had a modest goal, which was exceeded by 36%. As a result of the campaign at noon on July 7th the campaign reached over 130,000 people via Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Being a good water conservationist I promoted the Thunderclap in the Alliance for Water Efficiency group on LinkedIn. The comments the discussion received were surprising.

Lawns Should Be Banned

Lawns should be banned was not the exact quote, but was the general sentiment of several quotes including:

  • “Smart irrigation is an oxymoron–at least in regards to lawns. Landscaping should reflect the local climate”
  • “My water utility pays hefty rebates to remove both turf and irrigation zones. And people are still wasting too much water irrigating landscapes that do not belong in their arid region. #banthefrontlawn
  • “Ditch the front lawn idea altogether, install drip for maintaining an aesthetic and use water for the real needs we have.”

While these comments might be considered to be a bit extreme, they do contain some truths. As Richard pointed out in his Smart Irrigation post last week, one of the first recommendations for Smart Irrigation is ”Choose grass or plants that have low water requirements and will thrive in your local climate.” My interpretation of thriving in your local climate, means it should do so with a minimal amount of supplemental irrigation.

Why We Have Lawns

While our love of the lawns may have roots in our European heritage, the truth is we have lawns because they are cheap…in the beginning. The least expensive ground cover is seed. The next least expensive ground cover is sod. Both seed and sod result in a lawn. To plant the equivalent square footage in traditional plants or shrubs is 600% more expensive than the alternative grass solution.

However, in the long run shrubs and ground cover may be the lower cost alternative as they generally require less water, less maintenance and less fertilization.

Innovation is the American Way

From moving water across states and regions to the invention of air conditioning, innovations have made it possible for people to live where nature did not intend. Can you imagine Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Antonio or Florida without air conditioning? I grew up in Atlanta, GA without air conditioning in the 1960′s and can tell you box fans only can do so much to cool you off on a hot summer night.  Innovations and engineering have made it possible and enjoyable to live where people did not live 100 years ago.

Smart Irrigation is Better Than Dumb Irrigation

Reality check. People live where nature did not intend and there are a lot of dumb irrigation systems out there wasting 35% or more of the water they use. Smart irrigation will reduce the amount of water used and as the third quote stated, “use water for the real needs we have”…like creating the energy we need to run the air conditioning for homes and offices in the areas where we really should not be living.

If you have an opinion about this smart irrigation post 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:



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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. Saturday, 7:55 Greg Chick

    Correct !, we do not need “smart irrigation”. we need smart people. Peoples choices that do not demand, at any cost a landscape design that is unrealistic for that location. Insisting on a bikini in the winter in Alaska is like wanting lawn in the desert. Ever seen fashion pictures of snow covered backgrounds and scantly dressed girls? So, my question is, are scantly dressed girls bad? no, in church? maybe. Are lawns bad? no, in a desert? maybe. If we were only talking about social visual choices of fashion that would be one thing. We are instead talking about water and power and the ability to sustain water and sanitation services in our country as a whole. I got an idea, let’s build a warm air tunnel from the Yuma desert to the top of the rockies so we can ski in bikinis!
    I think that would be a great tourist attraction and we could advertise world wide “Paradise” Isn’t that a good example of “free market” american dream development and prosperity ! Yes, it is. and a fine one at that, but at what cost?

  2. Monday, 6:09 Alan Harris

    @Greg – Two thumbs up for your analogies. Got any more analogies for growing lettuce in the desert?

  3. Monday, 4:43 Greg Chick

    Thanks for your indulgence, so many people miss my “far fetched” analogies and miss my points that we so willingly “subscribe” or accept something in one area and for some reason are offended when the same process is applied elsewhere. One example is the whole automotive industry. If the whole country was built on mass transit and someone suggested, Gas stations and smog stations and repair shops, oil refineries, car crash fatalities auto ins. speeding tickets car washes, tire shops stop lights, traffic jams, gas at $4.00 a gal $125 oil changes… on and on, the suggester would be laughed out of town or stoned to death in the streets!

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