Modern Irrigation Management – More Than Just Turning Off The Water

Guenter Hauber-Davidson1, Rex Sullings2 Managing Director, Water Conservation Group, Pymble/Sydney NSW, Australia Senior Irrigation Engineer, Water Conservation Group, Pymble/Sydney NSW, Australia Corresponding author, email Abstract The response to water restrictions has simply been to turn off irrigation systems. Past wastage and bad management practices have contributed to the belief that this is the easiest way to save water. Yet, only recently is the industry beginning to reinvent itself concentrating on original basic irrigation practices. Ideal plant watering needs are frequently derived from agricultural principles, which were maximised for crop production. Deriving an assessment of the amount of water an irrigation system can apply is often determined from “catch can” tests. Results are based on the worst performing quadrant. It leads to overly excessive design watering needs. Instead, in a parks and garden type situation, basing the design on a medium or even 65%ile result would be adequate. An optimum plant selection should be undertaken matching local micro climate, aspect, exposure and soils. Next the use of modern irrigation application technology such as sub soil drip irrigation supported by capillary suction mats can stretch that drop of water a lot further. Finally, a sophisticated and carefully operated irrigation control system with user feedback can provide a system where the difference is minimised between optimised plant watering demands and the actual amount of irrigation water applied. This is of particular importance where watering needs are supplied from alternative water sources as this minimises issues with the up concentration of salts. A modern, well operated, carefully assessed, monitored and smart metered water efficient irrigation system can readily provide amenity values we should be able to provide to the community in a modern society even under water restrictions. Keywords: Irrigation, plant watering needs, water restrictions, water efficiency, irrigation control and management. Introduction The response to water restrictions in Australia has been to simply turn off urban irrigation systems. Prior to water restrictions some Councils used 70% of their total water consumption for irrigation. Stories abounded with sprinklers running in the middle of the heaviest rain event watering plenty of road and the car park. This wastage and poor management practices have contributed to the belief that simply turning off the irrigation is the easiest way to save water (Figure 1). Yet, only recently is the industry beginning to reinvent itself concentrating on original basic irrigation practices.

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Water Conservation Group Pty Ltd | 15/33 Ryde Rd | Pymble NSW 2073 | ABN 79 121 148 169 Ph 02 9499 8795 Fax 02 9499 4950 E-mail Web

Urban irrigation design derived its principles from rural irrigation practices. aerating etc. temperature. and aspect (which all have an impact on evapo-transpiration). in the urban context. Few have ever thought about how much water is really needed.doc Page 2 of 10 Water Conservation Group Pty Ltd | 15/33 Ryde Rd | Pymble NSW 2073 | ABN 79 121 148 169 Ph 02 9499 8795 Fax 02 9499 4950 E-mail water@watergroup. Yet. Modern irrigation practices need to take into account a wide array of factors which influence water demand including the weather. mowing. where maximising the yield was a primary concern. and introduction of effective irrigation control and management systems. Adjusting design principles to match the unique needs of urban parks and gardens including playing fields and golf courses is a first step to lock in significant water savings [1].There is considerable anecdotal evidence of water savings in the order of 60-80% through better irrigation application and management practices on a number of larger commercial sites in the Sydney region alone – stark evidence of the shortcomings of past practices and the effectiveness of more stringent urban irrigation management and advanced urban irrigation practices in general. Figure 1. increased efficiency of irrigation technologies. slope (where applicable).watergroup. field use/traffic. and the importance of the desire amenity and the prestige value attached to a particular field or oval to minimise plant watering needs. soil type. Our Ref: \\Sydserver1\shared\WCG Files\90 References\PrsntnsPaprsSemsConfs\PapersArticlsWCG\P_ModIrriMgtGHD v1a080308. if one could have a green soft playing field without grass growth – avoiding the need to cut it – that would be ideal. shading. A sports fields suffering under water restrictions. Water Demand Assessment While water was cheap and plentiful there was little need to place much emphasis on determining actual plant watering needs nor on identifying ways of decreasing this demand. Figure 2 shows the large Web www. site . field management practices like fertilising. Water savings in irrigation can be achieved through three broad categories: reduced plant watering profile and depth. micro-climatic issues such as wind.

and not all natives are water efficient. In fact.000 60.000 Total Water Demand ML/yr . traffic. Variability of different water demands As Batham points out [1] further potential lies in the selection of appropriate plants.doc Water Conservation Group Pty Ltd | 15/33 Ryde Rd | Pymble NSW 2073 | ABN 79 121 148 169 Ph 02 9499 8795 Fax 02 9499 4950 E-mail water@watergroup. can require more water than exotic species [1]! Climate As p ec t e op Sl Usage Plant moisture demand Pl an t Prestige il So sp e cie s Figure 3. soil. Depending on 0 Council Irrigation Demand Model Council Target "Rule of Thumb" Design Figure 2. some natives planted in the wrong Web www.Total Water Demand 20. and then carefully designing the irrigation system and selecting irrigation schedules to match these needs whilst taking into account soil moisture holding capacities to get to the plant just the amount of water Page 3 of 10 Our Ref: \\Sydserver1\shared\WCG Files\90 References\PrsntnsPaprsSemsConfs\PapersArticlsWCG\P_ModIrriMgtGHD v1a080308.watergroup. Grass is not equal grass. Factors influencing plant water needs Knowing these water needs (Figure 3).000 40. playing needs and desired amenity value appropriate species can be selected.000 80.

Soil Profile as Rainwater Storage Tank Christison Park 1. As more water can be retained in the soil profile.200 1. In effect. This understanding of demand must then be coupled with state of the art control Web www. and this can often be achieved with a simple soil amelioration program. or at least less susceptible to sub-optimal irrigation if irrigation was reduced. i.that it needs to perform the agreed function. even if application cycles and irrigation depths are not optimally adjusted. this will further minimise watering needs as it increases the amount of rainwater that can be stored. the soil profile can act as a rainwater storage tank.400 1.000 800 kL 600 400 200 0 12mm 25mm 33mm Figure . so that the minimum amount of water is used to supply the required plant water demand. the soil has a capacity to buffer it (Figure 4). Coupled with an adjusted irrigation and field management scheme. without wasting water and taking into account a range of environmental and operational factors. making it more drought tolerant. or returfing it. On the other hand. All these factors need to be taken into account when assessing how for example a playing field can be kept in a “safe and suitable” state. The soil’s moisture holding capacity should be irrigation pattern. will significantly increase water demands for a period of time and need to be taken into appropriate consideration.watergroup. it will provide for a more fault. practices such as reestablishing a field.doc Page 4 of 10 Water Conservation Group Pty Ltd | 15/33 Ryde Rd | Pymble NSW 2073 | ABN 79 121 148 169 Ph 02 9499 8795 Fax 02 9499 4950 E-mail water@watergroup. Such control systems should ensure that the water applied (if above ground irrigation is used) achieves optimum percolation into the ground. Equivalent tank storage volume depending on soil moisture holding capacity Our Ref: \\Sydserver1\shared\WCG Files\90 References\PrsntnsPaprsSemsConfs\PapersArticlsWCG\P_ModIrriMgtGHD v1a080308. is the secret to modern water efficient irrigation management. reseeding.e.

These nozzles have varying distances of Distribution uniformity is also affected by the distance between the sprinklers and the basic layout (rectangular or triangular) of the sprinkler heads. No matter how hard you try you just cannot fit a round peg into a square hole. Our Ref: \\Sydserver1\shared\WCG Files\90 References\PrsntnsPaprsSemsConfs\PapersArticlsWCG\P_ModIrriMgtGHD v1a080308. application rates and uniformities of distribution depending on the nozzle specification and sprinkler pressure. well not perfectly. . Drip tube irrigation systems overcome that geometrical challenge (Figure 6). Yet this is what irrigation sprinkler with a circular wetting pattern try to do when irrigating a rectangular sports field (Figure 5)! Sprinklers Figure 5. Yet.watergroup. Its ability to improve the movement of water through the soil in the required direction has allowed dramatic efficiency improvements in the sports turf area in Web www.doc Page 5 of 10 Water Conservation Group Pty Ltd | 15/33 Ryde Rd | Pymble NSW 2073 | ABN 79 121 148 169 Ph 02 9499 8795 Fax 02 9499 4950 E-mail Novel system such as the KISSS [3] (Kapillary Irrigation Sub-Surface Systems) go further and achieve additional water savings through clever application and sub-soil moisture distribution. and worse. is what has frequently been happening with typical urban irrigation systems [3].Optimising how much water gets to the plant Imagine a system where 70% of the volume supplied is lost before it even gets to the point where it can be used. Conceptual illustration of one inherent design limitation of applying equal amounts of irrigation water via overhead sprinklers (example showing an older system with non uniform heads) The vast majority of landscape and turf sprinklers have circular wetting patterns and come with a range of nozzles suitable for a variety of applications.

The misplacement of a single sprinkler by only a small amount can have a significant effect on the evenness of coverage. Annual Water Demands 0 Current Conditions Uniform Irrigation Rain dependant Heads irrigation Uniform Heads Below ground and Rain kapillary irrigation Dependant Figure 7.watergroup. while the system is new.000 20.000 5.000 Annual Water Demand 30.000 15. Accurate installation of the sprinklers is another critical factor.doc Page 6 of 10 Water Conservation Group Pty Ltd | 15/33 Ryde Rd | Pymble NSW 2073 | ABN 79 121 148 169 Ph 02 9499 8795 Fax 02 9499 4950 E-mail water@watergroup. and As the distance from the nozzle increases. The best results actually achieved in the field are in the region of approximately 80-90% of optimum efficiency. it is an imperfect science.000 25. Water demands for different irrigation options With overhead sprinklers it is very difficult to even achieve evenness of coverage within the area of a single circular sprinkler. at . Sprinkler manufacturers attempt to overcome this situation by the use of sprinkler nozzles that actually apply more water to the outside of the circle than the inner parts of the circle.Sub Soil Figure 6: Uniform application of water through sub soil irrigation systems The resultant savings can be quite staggering as Figure 7 taking from a real life project assessment shows. Our Ref: \\Sydserver1\shared\WCG Files\90 References\PrsntnsPaprsSemsConfs\PapersArticlsWCG\P_ModIrriMgtGHD Web www.000 10. Still. the area covered for each degree of arc of coverage is increased dramatically.

A detailed examination of the system components to ensure the system is in an acceptable working condition. are all taken into consideration. shade etc.e. leaking valves. Any significant defects identified at this stage are repaired and any major anomalies corrected.This uneven coverage results in uneven turf growth and is difficult to overcome without significant water waste. The collected data and information is collated and a suitable irrigation schedule is generated to maximise the system efficiency. damaged or broken sprinklers. maintenance and repair 5. seasonal or monthly basis.doc Page 7 of 10 Water Conservation Group Pty Ltd | 15/33 Ryde Rd | Pymble NSW 2073 | ABN 79 121 148 169 Ph 02 9499 8795 Fax 02 9499 4950 E-mail water@watergroup. as this approach will at least result in the entire area appearing green. A catch can test is undertaken to quantify the efficiency of distribution of the system. 4. aspect. 2. It documents the findings of the audit and provides recommendations for further improvements to the efficiency of the system through possible adjustments and or alterations and through the implementation of a comprehensive control. Detailed data relating to the system and the irrigated area is compiled. The scheduling model can produce irrigation schedules on an Web www. Blocked or damaged nozzles. Wind direction and velocity are also recorded. coring. Irrigation Auditing An irrigation audit is a comprehensive assessment of an irrigation system combined with the generation of a detailed programming schedule for the system. management practices such as top dressing. The irrigation system is then operated and the results are recorded. slope. monitoring. The collected data is now entered into an irrigation scheduling model where the remaining contributing factors are identified and soil amelioration etc are all recorded and integrated into the scheduling modelling tool (Figure 8). plant root depth. soil type and condition. presence of wind breaks. The trade-off is waste of water on the remaining areas that receive more water than they actually require. poorly orientated heads. infiltration capacity. A detailed report is generated. An irrigation audit follows these steps. seasonal variations in use.watergroup. A number of catch cans are distributed in an area that is considered to be representative of the overall area. In this step all other factors considered to be relevant are identified and documented. Catch can tests can only be conducted in low winds otherwise results are very misleading. pipes etc are all remedied. combined with measured flow rates and other data collected during the audit will provide accurate demand figures. misaligned . Turf and plant types. microclimate i. 3. These schedules. The relative efficiency of the operation of the system. and proximity to heat sink surfaces etc. The typical response of the turf manager is to irrigate according to the needs of the driest part. articulated risers. Our Ref: \\Sydserver1\shared\WCG Files\90 References\PrsntnsPaprsSemsConfs\PapersArticlsWCG\P_ModIrriMgtGHD v1a080308. 1.

doc Page 8 of 10 Water Conservation Group Pty Ltd | 15/33 Ryde Rd | Pymble NSW 2073 | ABN 79 121 148 169 Ph 02 9499 8795 Fax 02 9499 4950 E-mail water@watergroup. Typically.21 150 31.07 164. and the water saved can represent millions of litres per . the lowest quadrant of catch can results is used as the baseline as this will give the greatest certainty of maximum crop production. this has often been based on agricultural irrigation systems and practice where the primary focus is to maximise crop production rather than on water efficiency.5 15. However.49 420.BOM Areal Actual KS x KD x KMC CxD Calc Value W/S Turf 92 220 4 8.8 176 23.31 1 92 11 8.watergroup.63 31.47 1.85 37.00 ETO x KL E: Plant Water Requirement STEP 2: IRRIGATION WATER REQUIREMENT F: Precipitation Rate Audit or calculation G: Distribution Uniformity .au Web www.50 Sandy Loam 0. Sample irrigation audit worksheet to determine efficiency rating Our Ref: \\Sydserver1\shared\WCG Files\90 References\PrsntnsPaprsSemsConfs\PapersArticlsWCG\P_ModIrriMgtGHD 7 0.75 11 37. The end result is an irrigation system that operates at its peak efficiency.63 62.From this audit optimum irrigation schedules can be derived. BASIC IRRIGATION AUDIT WORKSHEET A: B: C: D: Item STEP 1: PLANT WATER REQUIREMENT: Plant Material Reference Period Reference ET (ETo) Landscape Coefficient (KL) Source Audit/Planting Plan Judgment Various . A more appropriate assessment method for urban landscape and sports turf irrigation systems is to base the assessment calculations on the median third of the catch can results.LTDU Audit or estimate H: Irrigation water requirement Plant water requirement/LQDU I: Total runtime per period Irrig water requirement / Precipitation rate STEP 3: SCHEDULING REQUIREMENTS J: Rootzone soil type Audit or estimate K: Available water holding capacity Table 5 (in soils) L: Active rootzone depth Audit or estimate M: Rootzone available water AWHC x active rootzone N: Working storage Rootzone RAW x MAD O: Number of irrig days per reference period Plant water req / Working storage P: Total runtime per irrigation day Total run-period / # irrig days Q: Runtime per cycle Audit or estimate R: Cycles per irrigation day Total run-day / runtime-cycle STEP 4: CONVERSION TO WEEKLY SCHEDULE: S: Number of days per reference period Reference period under Audit T: Number of irrig days per reference period Plant water req / Working storage U: Multiplying Factor for Conversion No of ref days divided by no of irrig days V: Number of days in a week Multiplying Factor for Runtime Per Week Runtime Per Reference Period Irrig Day Runtime Per Week Cycles Per Week Runtime per cycle Fixed Days in week divided by conversion factor E/G (H/F) x 60 KxL 50% E/N I/O P/Q Determination by Auditor Figure 8. Improvements in efficiency in the order of 20-40% from the implementation of the recommendations from an irrigation audit are quite common. This leads to significant water savings and it provides the end user with a more flexible scheduling tool making it simple to generate seasonally adjusted irrigation schedules.

aspect. Coupling a modern irrigation management system incorporating remote control with live feedback and smart water metering for real time monitoring of water consumption are the final tools to not only achieve but also demonstrate that acceptable amenity values can be achieved with water savings similar to current turn the irrigation off for six days/week practices. The first step is to carefully assess optimum irrigation schedules balancing the new water needs with soil moisture holding capacity and the capacities of the irrigation system to establish optimum irrigation depths and application intervals. soil moisture sensors and potential other climate data such as wind. aided by the reporting tools of these new control systems. some even allowing for weather forecast based scheduling. To document the improved practices it should be essential that key data is also A modern water efficient irrigation systems ensures that the amount of water that is actually made available for plant uptake is maximised. temperature and cloud cover or evapotranspiration measurements modern computer controlled systems can lead to further significant efficiency improvements. Our Ref: \\Sydserver1\shared\WCG Files\90 References\PrsntnsPaprsSemsConfs\PapersArticlsWCG\P_ModIrriMgtGHD v1a080308. All too often in the past (and present) the amount of water used for irrigation is not even . Cost effective smart water metering systems remove that obstacle and is now a must. Using modern Kapillary Irrigation Sub-Surface Systems can realise water savings of up to 70% by overcoming geometrical constraints. Performing irrigation audits on existing overhead irrigation sprinkler system can typically identify savings of 20-30% alone. desired amenity values.Irrigation Management and Control Many of the potential savings listed above remain theoretical unless they are actually put into practice with a modern irrigation management and control system. Coupled with field value observations such as rainfall. Beginning with a first principle approach and applying the basic philosophy of water demand management – looking for efficiency gains – plant watering needs can often be scaled back by as much as 30%.watergroup. Remote control or web based systems. soil profile and characteristics. Climate. Better monitoring allows a retrospective assessment of what did work and what didn’t. avoiding overspray and optimising water distribution within the soil. and plant species are all factors that go into the Web www. usage. Conclusion Modern irrigation management practices and technologies allow a far more sophisticated approach to comply with water restrictions than just turning the water off – whilst maintaining desired amenity values and healthy parks and gardens. What you don’t measure you cannot manage. slope. make it possible and practical to realise these savings.doc Page 9 of 10 Water Conservation Group Pty Ltd | 15/33 Ryde Rd | Pymble NSW 2073 | ABN 79 121 148 169 Ph 02 9499 8795 Fax 02 9499 4950 E-mail water@watergroup.

Batham. Ozwater 2007. Our Ref: \\Sydserver1\shared\WCG Files\90 References\PrsntnsPaprsSemsConfs\PapersArticlsWCG\P_ModIrriMgtGHD v1a080308. 2004 3. G. Role of Irrigation in Urban Water Conservation: Opportunities and Challenges. 2007 4. pp. Local Government Sustainable Development 2007. Web www. 2007 2. Proceedings of the National Workshop. 3. Hauber-Davidson. Sydney.watergroup. E. Connellan. Saving Water in Parks. The science behind capillary irrigation & water technologies. B. Maheshwari and G. Ovals and Golf Courses. Darling Harbour.doc Page 10 of 10 Water Conservation Group Pty Ltd | 15/33 Ryde Rd | Pymble NSW 2073 | ABN 79 121 148 169 Ph 02 9499 8795 Fax 02 9499 4950 E-mail water@watergroup. and Idris. (2006) ‘Smart Water Metering’.au . 33 no. vol. Melbourne. Sydney. Cesswell.References 1. 38-41.

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