Smart irrigation strategies: A glimpse into thriving communities 

Using smart irrigation to make communities more livable is not something that’s happening just in the United States.
Communities are taking advantage of smart irrigation strategies to provide amenities for their citizens.
The Irrigation Association, Fairfax, Virginia, is highlighting the value of smart irrigation through Smart Irrigation Month this July. The initiative was created to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation technologies, products and services in landscape, turf and agricultural irrigation. This year’s theme, “What’s the value of smart irrigation?” allows the IA to tell the irrigation industry’s story about how smart irrigation products, technologies and practices are having a positive and beneficial impact on our lives and communities. Smart Irrigation Month is sponsored by HydroPoint.

Scissortail Park, a cornerstone of horticulture and a thriving public space in the heart of Oklahoma City, is not just an oasis for humans; it’s also a haven for flora and fauna thanks to its innovative smart irrigation strategies. It provides a glimpse into how communities are leveraging their green spaces that serve the people that live and work in the area. Using smart irrigation to make communities more livable is not something that’s happening just in the United States, either, according to Doug Loftus, associate marketing program manager at Rain Bird. Loftus says that parks and stadiums from Doha, Qatar, to Tuscon, Arizona, are taking advantage of the benefits of smart irrigation to make their communities thrive. 

How smart irrigation can be the foundation of a livable community 

Lance Swearingen, director of horticulture and grounds at Scissortail Park in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, says the park’s unique approach to landscape management intertwines smart irrigation strategies that support the original intention of the park.  

“The area that the park was built on was formerly an industrial area south of the core of our downtown area,” says Swearingen. “Part of the rehabilitation of downtown through the MAPS project — which is a penny sales tax — built the park. Part of that was to renovate downtown, bring people back downtown and connect the downtown core to the Oklahoma City river shore. At the bottom of our lower park, we have the Oklahoma River, so the park really is a connection.” 

The park spans 70 acres with two main areas, an upper park and a lower park, each with two unique irrigation solutions. 

“We have a large lagoon, I think it’s around six acres that are fed by the aquifer, and then we irrigate out of it for all 36 acres of the upper park,” Swearingen says. “The lower park is connected to city water.” 

The turf section, spanning about 25 acres, has a more common cultivar of Bermuda grass in the lower park, while the upper park hosts a different cultivar of Bermuda. The cultivar in the upper park grows more laterally rather than vertically, reducing the need for frequent mowing and contributing to the park’s conservation efforts. 

When it comes to the controller itself, the systems are both managed by a smart controller that allows for a great deal of flexibility and time savings since adjustments can be made from a desk or smartphone. Swearingen says this flexibility can really make a difference considering the intricacies of managing a space like Scissortail Park.  

Swearingen highlights the park’s challenge in managing irrigation around various events and the high foot traffic the park experiences. The need to avoid wet lawns during events calls for a meticulous strategy in managing the irrigation of the turf areas. Damages to irrigation infrastructure are frequent, with irrigation heads needing regular replacement. 

“We have golf carts driving on grounds, we have contractors that are on grounds and we regularly get damaged heads that are on corners of walkways that we have to regularly manage,” he says. 

The allure of smart irrigation isn’t just limited to local sites like Scissortail Park. With the right application and execution, its impact can extend to a global scale, says Loftus. This is exemplified in how smart irrigation technologies are adopted in some of the world’s most visible sites, similar to how local parks are transforming their landscapes. 

Scissortail Park’s irrigation strategy extends beyond the water that comes out of its sprinkler heads. It hosts a complex network of French drains and aquatic gardens designed to filter surface water back into the lake, effectively reusing it. The park’s network of bioswales and under-drains serve as practical implementations of its water conservation efforts. 

Swearingen emphasizes the park’s mission of creating a downtown habitat, restoring ecosystems and promoting green practices. This commitment to sustainability and community rejuvenation is exemplified by the park’s irrigation system and conscious efforts to conserve and reuse water. 

“Water conservation’s a big deal at the park,” he says. “Part of our mission is to create a habitat downtown, bring back wildlife, bring back the ecosystem and create an urban forest. We can’t have beautiful gardens and public gardens without a great irrigation system. That really is the foundation of a good public garden. So it’s good to be able to be a part of that and help make the city a better place.” 

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The Dept. of the Interior launched a water recycling program that will incentivize projects at a larger scale, with no cap on project size.
The deadline for student and educator applications for the Fairfax, Virginia-based Irrigation Association’s 2023 E3 program is Sept. 20.
The deadline for student and educator applications for the Fairfax, Virginia-based Irrigation Association’s 2023 E3 program is Sept. 20.

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