A higher level of service

With Smart Irrigation Month approaching in July, it's important to embrace the message of efficient irrigation and use it in how we operate.
With Smart Irrigation Month in July, it's important to embrace the message of efficient irrigation through education and technology.

July means Smart Irrigation Month, which has been celebrated since 2005. It is an initiative that was kickstarted by the Irrigation Association with the intent of education and promotion of the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation using smart irrigation technologies, products and services. There is no doubt that this sounds compelling, but what can we do as individuals and organizations to help make Smart Irrigation Month beneficial?

Smart irrigation has a broad definition. The IA’s website refers to the smart technologies that “take the human element out of the equation. Smart sensors and controllers monitor weather and other site conditions and adjust the irrigation system to apply just the right amount of water at just the right time. Water-saving nozzles and pressure regulators apply water precisely, just where it’s needed. Together, these technologies can successfully reduce outdoor water use by as much as 20% to 40% annually, while maintaining a healthy, beautiful landscape.” Smart irrigation also describes the practices, many times by the irrigation system manager, that result in efficient application of water to the landscape.

Over time, more and more professionals have come to understand what smart irrigation is, but there are many that aren’t sure of how they can integrate it into their businesses or simply what they do every day. Many professionals feel like they are fighting an uphill battle when they are communicating the benefits of smart irrigation. I have joked about how the end user, whether a homeowner, professional gardener or designer, will regularly designate themselves as the irrigation expert, ignoring those of us who have dedicated our careers to the industry.

The perception is usually that more water is always better and that overwatering is sometimes only obvious when soil is saturated. It solves most any problem with grass or plants. While many would think that this is only an issue in areas where water is plentiful, it can be equally blatant in areas where water is most scarce.

As an industry, it is important for us to embrace the message of efficient irrigation and embrace it in how we operate.

Let me get on my soapbox: We are all the messengers. As an industry, it is important for us to embrace the message of efficient irrigation and embrace it in how we operate. Quality auto mechanics won’t disable emissions equipment on our vehicles. HVAC technicians will largely only recommend and install the most efficient equipment with the latest technology. Irrigation technicians should be recommending and installing the most efficient products, maintaining systems to the highest standards, and scheduling systems to use water as efficiently as possible for a healthy landscape. With every opportunity possible, we need to tell this story so that eventually, all of those “experts” will hear this in enough places to listen and understand.

We can proactively use the technology that is available to us. We have a tremendous number of options for precisely targeting applied water with landscape drip equipment. Application technology for spray, rotary and rotor nozzles continues to improve. Pressure management tools to regulate system, zone, sprinkler and emitter pressure is better than ever. The most exciting and shiny improvements are with control systems. Many manufacturers, even some from outside our industry, have developed platforms that adjust their schedules reliably and are very user-friendly. Many have easy-to-understand messages about the benefits of watering more efficiently in the landscape that have started to resonate with the watering public. These controllers range from inputs from simple rain sensors and the internet connection for weather information to extremely elaborate control systems that have multiple moisture sensors communicating over a two-wire path (and everything in between). The ability to be connected to these controllers by Wi-Fi or other communication paths by the contractor and the end user makes managing irrigation more effective and upgrading to these smart technologies a no-brainer.

Since we have a compelling message and great technology, the last step is to proactively provide appropriate levels of service to manage landscape irrigation more efficiently. “Call me when something breaks” or “turn on in spring, blow it out in fall” isn’t an appropriate amount of service. All systems should have some type of management plan or program in place, which will require multiple visits throughout the watering season to inspect the system and perform ongoing maintenance services, repairs and upgrades.

Reach out to your clients during Smart Irrigation Month and share your message with them. Show them your commitment. Show how with technology and your services they can water more efficiently for a much healthier landscape. Recognize that this is the perfect opportunity to provide them with a much higher level of service.

Christopher Pine, CLWM, CID, CIC, CLIA, CIT, MCLP, is a principal of IrriTech Training and the president of BluGreen Solutions in Pocasset, Massachusetts. He can be reached at chris@irritechtraining.com.

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