Improving Irrigation Efficiency Can Save Your Landscape
Rancho Santa Fe Review
By Fran Lambert, Certified Arborist and Cerfified Landscape Irrigation Auditor
August 06, 2009
Are you aware that Drought Level Two mandated restrictions require that you can only irrigate your landscape one day per week from November through May?
Many homeowners are still working on getting their irrigation schedules set for the “Three Days Per Week, Ten Minutes Per Zone” limitation in effect now. Some have not changed at all and continue to water just as before. Either they or their gardener are not aware of the new rules, or they simply want everything green with no extra effort. You can tell who they are by the overly lush lawns and/or water running off into the street during daytime hours.
However, it is in everyone’s best interest to work toward compliance right away. Maintaining your landscape will become much more difficult if Drought Level Three mandates go into effect with only two days watering allowed in summer, and of course water will become far more expensive. Penalties can be implemented for those who ignore the mandates, as it is now illegal to waste water. Since we are in a Fire Prone Area, having ample water to fight fires is essential to all of us. Conservation could well mean our survival.
A beautiful landscape is a source of pride and enjoyment, requiring a great deal of time, effort and expense to create as well as maintain. However, the irrigation system is often neglected and taken for granted. It runs while most of us are asleep, unaware of breaks, leaks and deteriorated functioning. The gardener typically pays little attention to the irrigation system unless there is an obvious failure. Adjusting the schedule according to seasonal weather changes is often overlooked, as long as everything looks nice.
Most homeowners could save a great deal of water simply by checking and repairing their irrigation system on a regular basis, and by frequently “fine tuning” the watering program. Even better, you could take advantage of the new irrigation technology that is far more efficient and adjusts for the weather automatically. You can see which properties have done this---they are the ones where the soil is relatively dry on the surface because the plants are deeper rooted and thriving on just the right amount of water.
Weather-based irrigation controllers and rotating nozzles, as well as drip irrigation allow a homeowner to be exempt from the 10 minutes per zone watering time in the Drought Level Two rules, because they apply water to trees and plants more accurately. Rebates are often offered by water districts to encourage homeowners to take advantage of innovative water saving technology.
Free irrigation audits are also available through most water districts to help homeowners identify problems and recommend solutions to improve their irrigation. This is a good place to start if your gardener does not have the skill set to evaluate the system on his own. While he may be able to perform some of the basic repairs himself, it is best to seek professional assistance when retrofitting the irrigation system with the best technology for your situation.
Proper pressure regulation for your irrigation system can save a significant amount of water, as well as prevent “water hammer” damage to valves and sprinklers. If you do not have a backflow preventer and pressure regulator installed, or if your equipment has not been checked annually, it is very important that you contact a qualified backflow contractor. Besides conserving water and protecting your family’s health, your overall irrigation performance will be greatly improved.
There is a wealth of information available online about water conservation, beginning with your water district’s website. Using these resources may help you resolve other problems related to Drought Restrictions. For example, if you have a large amount of turf, it may be impossible to irrigate all of it in one day a week during the November through May time period. You may need to consider changing out some less used areas of lawn for more drought tolerant plants or “meadows” of native grasses in order to keep the essential elements of your landscape in good health.
Trees will still need water if grass is removed, so be sure to provide them with deep, infrequent irrigation or they can become vulnerable to pests and disease. Be especially careful not to over-prune or over-fertilize any woody ornamental plants, as this can cause them to require more water than what is available.
Determining what areas of your landscape need modification may require a professional water manager as well as an expert familiar with plants requiring less water. Organizations such as the Irrigation Association, California Landscape Contractors Association, and the Professional Tree Care Association of San Diego can help you locate the certified and licensed contractors or consultants you will need.
With only three months until the “One Day Per Week & Ten Minutes Per Station” watering limitations, now is the time to begin working on this important task. Drought conditions are predicted to continue for the foreseeable future, which will require a paradigm shift in how we view our landscapes and the value of water itself.