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Project Completion Report

Water Management and Conservation Activity

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Provo, Utah Office

Demonstration of Potential for Residential Water Savings using a Soil Moisture Controlled Irrigation Monitor

Project 6-FC-40-19490

Dr. Richard G. Allen Dept. Biological and Irrigation Engineering Utah State University Logan, UT 84322-4105

October, 1997

Demonstration of Potential for Residential Water Savings using a Soil Moisture Controlled Irrigation Monitor
Dr. Richard G. Allen Dept. Biological and Irrigation Engineering Utah State University Logan, UT 84322-4105 Project Summary This one-year conservation project demonstrated new technology for conserving irrigation water by residential users. Small electronic, soil water control systems were installed in residential sprinkler systems for the 1996 irrigation season in two Utah cities, Salt Lake City, representing a metropolitan setting, and Providence, representing a small town experiencing high growth with water supply constraints. The control systems consisted of an electrical-resistance sensor inserted into the lawn that was interfaced to an electronic control unit. The control unit was, in turn, interfaced with the particular type of irrigation control clock that was in use by the residential water user. The electronic control unit, which was placed in-line between the resident's irrigation clock and irrigation valves, automatically disrupted voltage signals sent to irrigation valves whenever the soil moisture condition of the lawn was wet and irrigation was not needed. The electronic control systems only allowed irrigations when they were needed. They also eliminated the need for users to manually reprogram irrigation clocks as irrigation water requirements changed, which has in the past proved to be a difficult endeavor even with education and information dissemination. A total of 28 installations were made in Providence and 9 systems were installed in Salt Lake City (37 total). Of these installations, 27 produced water use data of sufficient quality and completeness to allow comparison with water use from prior years. Water use by these 27 participants was compared with 39 "controls" (i.e., residences that were not a part of the study). On average, the 27 participating residences used 10% less water during the 1996 demonstration season than did the "control" group (those not in the demonstration), when compared to water use patterns during prior years. In addition, questionnaires completed by 36 participants indicated that 26 of the 36 participants observed that their lawns were "as green" or "greener" and better watered than in previous years, even though they were "conserving" water. Utah State University managed the demonstration in a "hands off" manner so that we could demonstrate the true performance, manner of use, and conservation results when users were "on their own." In other words, USU did not visit systems during the irrigation season to "tweak" them, but relied on the users to make their own voluntary adjustments to their control units. Twenty-eight of 36 users of the technology indicated that they were impressed by the simplicity and automation afforded by the control systems and with the zero-maintenance needs. All but two users indicated that they would continue to use the systems during 1997 and beyond, even though the demonstration study was for the 1996 year, only. As an indication of the simplicity and maintenancefree operation of the systems, no telephone calls were received by Utah State University at the start of the 1997 irrigation season, when the irrigation systems were put back into operation by the participants, indicating that no problems were encountered by the users that were not solvable by themselves.

Page 2 Project Purpose and Background There is exciting and effective new technology available for reducing irrigation water consumption by residential users. Like many conservation technologies that are cost effective, the new irrigation technology needs demonstration and promotion by the public sector to demonstrate its effectiveness and economy and to educate the general public concerning the need and benefits of adopting the technology. Core water management practices outlined in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) Guidelines for Water Conservation Plans call for water measurement and record keeping. These practices are already in effect by many city governments for culinary water used for irrigation. Measurements and information on total water use are generally passed on to users. However, the typical residential user has limited knowledge of the dynamics of water evaporation and how water use changes during a growing season. Programs that supply information concerning "evapotranspiration" rates and scheduling strategies are often not easily understood by many homeowners. To be successful, water conservation activities should not require extra information gathering and decision-making. In general, systems should be automated. There is therefore a tremendous need and opportunity to apply new electronic soil moisture sensing systems that provide automated control of lawn irrigation systems. The automated operation of the system eliminates the "human" component of the "conservation chain" and provides for information feedback and education of users as they observe the automated modification to the frequency of irrigations as weather changes. This conservation demonstration study was funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation through the Provo Area Office. The cooperating cities were the City of Providence and City of Salt Lake City. The water departments of these two cities agreed to grant access to water records of participants and control groups and they provided listings of potential cooperators. Key contacts were Mayor Alma Leonhardt of City of Providence and Mr. Bill Farmer, Mr. LeRoy Hooton, and Mr. James Lewis of the Department of Public Utilities, Salt Lake City Corporation.

The Soil and Irrigation Monitoring System. Several low cost soil-based irrigation control systems are now on the market for interfacing with residential irrigation control clocks. In these systems, an electric-resistance based sensor is inserted into the soil of the lawn and is used to continuously monitor soil moisture. An electronic control unit is mounted next to whatever type of irrigation control clock is used by the user and is connected to the clock using a wire harness. Whenever the irrigation clock turns on to activate irrigation valves and to initiate an irrigation, the electronic control unit, which is placed in line between the clock and the irrigation valves, either disrupts the voltage signal sent to the irrigation valves or allows the signal to proceed, depending on the soil moisture condition. The devices can be added to nearly any 24 volt irrigation clock with no modification needed to the clock. The clock functions as usual and "thinks" that it is irrigating each time that it turns on. However, the electronic control unit will not allow the irrigation valves to open if there is ample water in the soil already. This provides for automatic reduction in the frequency of irrigation during spring and fall periods, during cool periods and during rain. No change in the programming of the irrigation clock is needed. This is a potentially enormous benefit to water conservation since most residential users are reluctant to change clock settings and irrigation frequencies even when they know that irrigation water requirements may have decreased.

Page 3 The control units can be used effectively to automatically manage residential systems. The largest amount of effort during installation is the routing of two wires between the control unit and the soil sensor. This is usually not difficult as the wires need only shallow burial. Often two free wires in the irrigation valve control cables may be already in place and can be used. The WaterWatcher system by Turf Tech, Inc. of Logan, Utah was selected over two other similar control systems on the market due to its use of a robust and easy to install soil sensor and the use of special electronics to insure consistent operation of all irrigation valves each irrigation. Prices were similar between three units on the market, averaging $100.00 or less per unit. The WaterWatcher system from Turf Tech is a small electronic unit the size of a bar of soap. The unit is mounted next to the lawn irrigation controller (clock) of the user and is attached to the irrigation clock using four wires (see Fig. 1 of Appendix 1). The Turf Tech system uses a simple stainless steel electrode that is inserted into the soil surface at a representative point in the lawn. No excavation is required (Fig. 2 of Appendix 1). The Turf Tech system differs from devices offered by other manufacturers in that no soil excavation is needed during installation of the stainless steel sensor and in that the sensor can be placed anywhere in the lawn, since the Turf Tech system utilizes an electronic "latching" system. The latching system forces the Turf Tech controller to abide by its initial decision to irrigate or to not irrigate (this decision is made each time the first valve of the user's irrigation controller turns on) regardless of whether the sensor is watered by the first irrigation valve or by the last irrigation valve. This insures that the irrigation system will not shut down mid way through an irrigation cycle when conditions at the sensor change due to the irrigation of the sensor. The latching system allows the sensor to be placed close to the house without regard for which irrigation zone it is in. The installation of the electronic soil-based control systems removes the headache and pressure of managing the lawn system from the user. The user sets his/her irrigation clock to irrigate for a prescribed time and at a prescribed frequency (for example, for 30 minutes each two days). The setting should be adequate to fulfill water needs during the hottest period of the irrigation season. The electronic control unit monitors soil moisture and precludes unneeded irrigations from occurring by disrupting the voltage signal sent to the valves. The irrigation clock has no knowledge that the irrigation is being disrupted and is not affected by the irrigation intervention. The electronic control unit does all of the decision making. The unit contains a moisture adjustment dial that allows the user to increase or reduce the target soil moisture level of the lawn. Any dry spots in the lawn are treated by adjusting the on-time of a specific valve on the user's irrigation clock, following usual practice.

Application Area Two cities in the upper Colorado River basin expressed their willingness to participate in this demonstration project. Providence, Utah, located in Cache County near Logan, Utah is a town of about 1500 residents that is currently experiencing a large rate of growth. A significant portion of new homes in the city use culinary water for sprinkling lawns. The new water usage has forced the city to pursue new sources of water for the city. However, this has been both expensive and difficult due to the limited supplies of surface water in the area and a State-imposed valley wide moratorium on ground water development. The city of Providence has expressed wide interest in exploring and in encouraging water conservation efforts by the current and future residential water users. Salt Lake City is a participant in the Central Utah Project and uses Bureau of Reclamation water as a part of the culinary water supply. The city has been responsive to previous water conservation programs and represents a municipal application/demonstration area.

Page 4 Procedure Twenty-eight homes in Providence and nine homes in Salt Lake City had WaterWatcher systems installed during May of 1996. These residences use metered culinary water for pressurized lawn irrigation and have programmable irrigation controllers. The cooperating homes were approached via letters and were invited to participate in the program voluntarily. WaterWatcher units were purchased and installed by USU. The participants in the study used automated irrigation clocks including units made by Toro (Vision II and other electronic and mechanical types), Rainbird (various types), Reidel, RichDel, Hardie, Lawn Genie, RainJet, Black&Decker, and WaterMaster. Several residences had two irrigation clocks. In these installations, both clocks, when physically close to each other, were tied to and controlled by a single WaterWatcher unit. In all cases, the WaterWatcher control units functioned successfully with the in-place irrigation clocks. The participants included residences having small, medium and large lawns. One installation was made at a local church in Providence where a large softball field and large lawn were placed under control. Twenty-four of the installations in Providence were in the "bench" area (eastern) portion of the city. All nine installations in Salt Lake City were in the area bounded by I-215 on the west, I-15 on the east, 1400 N. on the north and North Temple on the south. Ages of participants in the study ranged from young, newly married couples to retirees. Over onethird of the participants were retired and four were elderly, widowed homeowners. The more elderly participants were included in the demonstration study to determine whether the electronic technology was automated and simple enough to be effective without thorough understanding and supervision. Thirty-nine additional homes were randomly selected as "control" users (25 in Providence and 14 in Salt Lake City). These controls had similar water use patterns as the participants of the study and were in the general vicinities of study participants. The controls were used on a comparison basis to determine "background" water use that would have occurred without the water conservation technology. After installation of the WaterWatcher control systems, the participants were instructed on how the control system worked and how they could adjust the WaterWatcher "moisture" dial to increase or decrease the wetness of their lawn before irrigation could occur. Participants were also instructed on how to modify the programming of their irrigation clocks, if necessary, to provide for best interfacing with the WaterWatcher unit. In about five installations, the user's irrigation clocks were reprogrammed to increase the potential irrigation frequency to one or two days or to increase the total on time per irrigation. Operations manuals for the WaterWatcher were provided to each participant. During the first few weeks, visits were made to about ten installations to monitor the operation of the system or to answer questions raised or problems encountered by participants. In one situation, the sensor in the lawn was moved to a more representative location. In three situations, electrical troubleshooting was required to correct for valve control problems caused by stray ground currents in the house or lawn. The majority of installations did not require post installation visits. These installations were purposely not revisited in order to evaluate the impact of the WaterWatcher systems when no outside "professional" oversight was provided. Participants were instructed to call at any time during the irrigation season if their irrigation systems malfunctioned. Only two calls were received during the season, and were unrelated to the operation of the WaterWatcher control units.

Page 5 No modifications or adjustments were made to the physical sprinkler systems of participants, since this could have masked over water savings that resulted from the electronic control technology, and would have made analysis of the conservation benefits more difficult. At the end of the study program (after the end of the 1996 irrigation season), monthly water records for all participants in the study as well as for about 50 nonparticipants were obtained from the two cooperating city water departments. Records were obtained for the 1996 season as well as for 1994 and 1995. Monthly was use was available for all months for Salt Lake City residences. Recorded water use was available in Providence for only months of July - September of 1994, June September of 1995 and June - October of 1996. The records were entered into a computer spreadsheet database and evaluated graphically. Participant and control records that had unexplained and sporadic or missing records were discarded from the comparison data base. After discarding of sporadic data, 18 of 28 installations in Providence and all 9 installations in Salt Lake City (27 total), produced water use data that could be compared with water use from prior years and that could be compared with 39 "controls" (i.e., residences that were not part of the study). The ten installations that were dropped from the data set generally had missing readings, faulty water meters, broken pipes, or changes in lawn areas between years. Monthly air temperature and precipitation records were obtained for Providence (Logan - Utah State University weather station) and for Salt Lake City (Salt Lake City NWSFO weather station). The "1985 Hargreaves" "evapotranspiration" equation was used to predict the consumptive water demand for each month of the study. Recorded precipitation depths for each month were subtracted from the consumptive demand estimate. The result was the depth of irrigation water that was likely evaporated each month from a grassed surface. These values were used to "adjust" water use records among years to account for differences in water use due to differences in weather alone. The monthly distributions and comparison of Net irrigation water requirements, expressed as inches per month, are shown in Fig. 6 and 7 of Appendix 2. An "exit" questionnaire was administered to all participants in the study regarding problems and perceptions encountered with the operation of the water conservation units, problems with controlling water applications to the lawns, problems with the sprinkler systems, the general appearance of the lawn, changes from previous years, apprehensions concerning maintaining or applying the technology, and their perception concerning the amount and value of water savings. Results of the questionnaire are summarized in appendix 3.

Results Of the 28 installations in Providence and 9 in Salt Lake City (37 total), 27 produced water use data that could be compared with water use from prior years and could be compared with 39 "controls" (i.e., residences that were not part of the study). Ten installations were dropped from the data set due to missing readings, faulty water meters, broken pipes, or changes in lawn areas between years. Examples of monthly water use over the three year period from 1994 - 1996 for two participants in Providence and two participants in Salt Lake City are shown in Fig. 1 and 2 of Appendix 2. On average, the 27 residences in the demonstration study used 10% less water during the 1996 demonstration than did the "control" group (those not in the demonstration). This was determined by comparing 1996 water use with water use in 1994 and in 1995. There was 10% savings in 1996

Page 6 relative to both of the two previous years. The results were statistically significant at the "5 % probability level." Water use during 1996, even after correction for differences in weather (evaporation demand and precipitation), was significantly greater for the control group (nonparticipants) than it was during 1994. Water use (adjusted for weather) increased in 1996 by 11% over 1994 and decreased by 1% over 1995. The reason for the increase in 1996 relative to 1994 for the control group is not known, but may be related to the perception by users that 1996 was a "hot, dry" summer and therefore required more irrigation water. In contrast, water use during 1996 for the participants, after correction for differences in weather, decreased by 1% over 1994 and by 6% over 1995 for an average decrease of 4% over 1994 and 1995 together. These trends are shown in Fig. 3-5 of Appendix 2. There were no statistically significant differences found in water use patterns or savings between the two cities, indicating that the pricing and cost for water (water was more expensive in Providence) and the size of the city did not substantially impact the degree of conservation accomplished. It was found that within the participant group, "retired" couples and individuals reduced their water use during 1996 (the year of the demonstration) almost twice as much as did the "working" homeowners. Of the retirees, retired couples had 20% reduction in water use during 1996, whereas "working" homeowners and widowed homeowners had about 10% reduction. Widowed, retired homeowners had about the same reduction in water use as working homeowners. These results indicate that retired couples may have spent more time "adjusting" the "moisture" setting on the WaterWatcher control unit in an attempt to reduce overall wetness of their lawns and to conserve more water. This resulted in less water consumption. Or, the results could indicate that retired couples had previously exercised less control over their systems prior to the study (i.e., during 1994 and 1995) and therefore gained more conservation via the automation and control exercised by the WaterWatcher. It was not possible to determine whether participants overwatered prior to the study since sizes of lawns and landscaping varied widely among participants and were therefore not comparable. Questionnaires completed by 36 of the 37 installations indicated that 13 of 36 observed that their lawns were "greener" and better watered than in previous years, even with the "conservation" technology, and 13 others indicated that their lawns looked as "green" as in previous years. Utah State University managed this demonstration study in a "hands off" manner so as to observe the true performance, manner of use, and conservation results when users were "on their own." In other words, USU did not visit systems during the irrigation season to "tweak" them, but relied on the users to make their own voluntary adjustments to the control units. Twenty-eight of 36 users of the technology indicated that they were impressed by the automatic operation of the control systems and with the zero-maintenance needs. All but two users indicated that they would continue to use the systems during 1997 and beyond, even though the demonstration study was for the 1996 year, only. As an indication of the simplicity and maintenancefree operation of the systems, no telephone calls were received by Utah State University at the start of the 1997 irrigation season, when the irrigation systems were put back into operation by the participants, indicating that no problems were encountered by the users that were not easily solvable.

Conclusions

Page 7 Results from this conservation demonstration study indicate that use of a simple, automatic device for overriding the electronic irrigation clock according to a simple monitoring of electric soil resistance can result in an average of 10% savings in water use and can still maintain green lawns. The WaterWatcher control unit used in this study interfaced with all types of electronic irrigation clocks that are in common use in Utah. In two-thirds of the cases, lawns were perceived as being better managed and as green or greener than without the use of the conservation technology. The technology is relatively inexpensive, having costs for equipment of $100 and requiring from one to four hours for installation, depending on the distance from the sensor to the irrigation clock, obstacles such as side walks and walls encountered during placement of the control cable, and any difficulties in matching polarity between the WaterWatcher sensor and the irrigation clock. The reprogramming of the irrigation clock, setting of the moisture setting on the WaterWatcher, and instructing the homeowner required an average of only 30 minutes. The control units and stainless steel soil sensor are expected to last for at least 10 years before replacement is needed. Measurable benefits from this demonstration program include documented water savings, education of residential users concerning dynamics of irrigation water requirements, bringing simplified control of irrigation water management to the user, demonstration of new technology in two Utah cities, and proof and documentation of the reliability of the approach and equipment. This project promoted public water conservation education through visible demonstration of reductions in residential irrigation water application made possible by adapting new electronic control technology. Reduction in water bills and at the same time preserving green lawns should gain attention of the surrounding home-owners and communities. Users visually observed the automatic modification of the frequency of irrigation events as the weather changed and began to better appreciate that overwatering lawns in early spring, in early fall, and during cool or wet periods is unnecessary. The activity increased technical understanding of unfamiliar water management principles that change widely with local conditions. Residential users who irrigate lawns using culinary water supplies are well aware of their metered water use and associated costs. However, most feel somewhat helpless to modify their water use behavior due to lack of specific information on specific water needs and variation in soil and plant properties. Many are reluctant to reprogram irrigation clocks as needs change over time. Federal, state, university, and city information services have for some time attempted to bring water requirement and irrigation system information into the hands of the residential consumer. However, this has been largely unsuccessful due to the large variations among users and systems. Application of irrigation control technology using automated soil moisture feedback removes the need for users to retain intimate knowledge of irrigation system output, weather changes and soil properties. Acknowledgements Appreciation is given to Mr. Lynn Bernhard, Civil Engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Water Conservation Program, Provo Area Office who facilitated the funding and scope of this study, to Mr. Alma Leonhardt, Mayor of City of Providence, and to Mr. Bill Farmer, Mr. LeRoy Hooton, and Mr. James Lewis of the Department of Public Utilities, Salt Lake City Corporation.

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Appendix 1

Schematics of the Irrigation Control Unit and Soil Moisture Sensor used in the Demonstration Study

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Figure 1. WaterWatcher Control Unit interfaced with Standard Electronic Irrigation Controller (Clock).

Figure 2. Stainless Steel Soil Sensor that is inserted into the surface of the Lawn.

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Appendix 2

Figures showing Results from the Study

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Figure 1. Example Water Use by Participant no. 2 in Providence.

Figure 2. Example Water Use by Participant no. 12 in Providence.

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Figure 3. Example Water Use by Participant no. 1 in Salt Lake City.

Figure 4. Example Water Use by Participant no. 4 in Salt Lake CIty.

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Figure 5. Net monthly evapotranspiration demand for Providence.

Figure 6. Net monthly evapotranspiration demand for Salt Lake City.

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Figure 7. Relative Ratios of Water Use during 1996 to Use during Previous Years.

Figure 8. Relative Water Use by Participants and Others, following adjustment for differences in weather demands (Evapotranspiration and Rain).

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Appendix 3

Questionnaire SUMMARY
for Participants in the 1996 Utah State University

Residential Irrigation Water Conservation Study

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Questionnaire SUMMARY
for Participants in the 1996 Utah State University

Residential Irrigation Water Conservation Study


37 installations (2 using 2 Water Watcher units) 36 responses to Questionnaire

1.

Compared to last year, my lawn this year was:


1

much greener 13 greener 13 same 5

somewhat less green

"browner" (than last year). 2. Regarding how the "WaterWatcher" performed over the course of the summer, I was:
(The "WaterWatcher" is the unit that we installed into your system)

10 very satisfied

18 satisfied

5 somewhat dissatisfied

1 very dissatisfied

If you answered "dissatisfied", can you please indicate why?:_____________ ______________________________________________________________ 3. Based on my observations, it appeared that I used:
2 much less 19 somewhat less 8 same 5 somewhat more 1 much

more water as compared to last year. 4. Compared to last year, the time that I spent "regulating" or "managing" the timing of watering by my sprinkler system was:
9 much less 15 somewhat less 7 same 3 somewhat more 1 much

more (than last year).

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5.

I kept the WaterWatcher (and my system) in "Auto" mode: 10 all summer 16 over 90% of the summer 2 less than half of the summer 7 over half of the summer don't know If you answered "less than half of the summer", please indicate why (in other words, if you
regularly switched the WaterW atcher from "auto" to "bypass" or if you regularly took your watering clock off from automatic, why did you do this?)

______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ 6. I moved the "bypass" knob on the WaterWatcher to "bypass" mode (instead of "auto" mode) a total of: 5 never 11 1-3 times 7 3-5 times 7 5-10 times 5 more than 10 times Please describe how much you have adjusted the "moisture control" knob on the front of the WaterWatcher over the course of the summer (this is the dial that goes from "dry" to "moist"). I adjusted the moisture control knob about: never 8. more as compared to last summer. 9. My watering system "kept up" with the needs of my lawn: 6 all of the time 27 most of the time 3 only some of the time (not during hot, dry periods) The WaterWatcher kept my watering system from coming on after rains: 16 all of the time 17 most of the time some of the time 1 never 2 The "green" light was "off" all of the time 18 most of the time 13 some of the time 2
17 1-3 times 9 3-5 times 4 5-10 times 5 more than 10 times

7.

I "worried" about the health and water use by my lawn: 2 somewhat more 5 much less 17 somewhat less 12 same

much

10.
know

don't

11.
know

never 4

don't

12.

I plan to use the WaterWatcher in my system next year: no, I won't use it 33 yes, I will use it 2 I am not sure

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13.

I used the operations manual that came with the WaterWatcher: 7 never 21 1-3 times 5 3-5 times 1 5-10 times

more than 10 times

14.

I found the operations manual that came with the WaterWatcher to be (check all that apply): 9 unnecessary 25 useful 1 confusing needs improvement

15.

Were there any "unusual" conditions or circumstances this year with regard to your lawn that may have affected the water use?

16.

Please comment, if you can, on the following: How consistently did the WaterWatcher allow your system to turn on (in other words, did it seem to allow your system to come on at about the same dryness level each time?).

17.

What kinds of problems did you experience with the WaterWatcher and what were the solutions that you found (if any)?

18.

What suggestions to you have for future programs or applications with this type of technology?

19.

What suggestions do you have for improving the WaterWatcher?

20.

Could you recommend this type of technology or product to your neighbor? 27 yes 0 no 8 possibly 0 definitely not!

21

Can you list the Names and Addresses for two homes in your neighborhood who have similar lawn sizes as your lawn and who have automatic sprinkler systems?
(Comparing your water use with these neighbors will help us to determine if you were able to save water as compared to what your neighbors used):

______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________