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Landscape Irrigation Now Awash in Technology

A host of new water conservation tools is being used to irrigate Santa Barbara County.

[Editor’s note: Noozhawk has embarked on a series exploring South Coast water issues. Click here for the first installment. Click here for the second installment.]

There may be talk of water shortages in the air but there’s no shortage of solutions to help South Coast water users get the most out of what we have.

The Santa Barbara County Water Agency has made landscape irrigation a main priority according to senior program specialist Len Fleckenstein, who said an average figure is that approximately 50 percent of water goes to landscape.

“It’s a fallacy that taking shorter showers or turning off water when you brush your teeth is what we should look to in saving water,” said Montecito Water District water conservation specialist Mike Clark, who estimates the figures are closer to 80 percent to 90 percent of water used for irrigation.

Statistics aside, local water agencies all agree that the choices Santa Barbara County makes with regard to irrigation, commercially and residentially, drastically affects the regional water supply.

Smart Irrigation

Smart Irrigation Controller systems are irrigation controllers that automatically adjust themselves according to current weather conditions. The unit takes into account plant and soil type to create a customized watering schedule.

Article Image
Sprinkler systems are becoming more sophisticated and many are now relying on irrigation controllers to monitor use and application. (Aquacraft Inc. IrriService photo)
There are two types of smart controllers; one has a small on-site weather station that feeds in the surrounding conditions and the other takes in satellite signals from a weather station off-site. Both use weather data in adjusting sprinkler systems to reduce runoff and over-watering.

Kitson Landscape Management, which prides itself on green gardening practices and participated in the county’s Green Gardener Program, says the technology is the future of irrigation.

“The onsite version is always more precise,” said company president Sarah Kitson. “In five years they won’t sell anything else.”

To encourage people to install weather-based irrigation controllers, certain agencies are offering free units and installation to qualified applicants, including the Goleta Water District, the Santa Barbara Water Resources Division, Carpinteria Valley Water District and the Montecito Water District.

Properties are analyzed for free to see if they are candidates for the system, because in some cases the devices will actually increase water use. To qualify for a free unit, the property must have a pre-existing irrigation controller.

Landscape Watering Calculator

The Landscape Watering Calculator is an online tool to help people monitor their watering schedules. The user enters his or her ZIP code, type of soil, plant variety and sprinkler system.

If deciphering soil type sounds confusing, there are resources to help the new gardener and Santa Barbara offers free soil probes for more effective testing.

“If you can’t even get the soil sampler into the ground or it’s crumbly and dusty, it’s too dry,” explained Kitson Landscape project manager Dave Fudurich. “Or if it smells bad, there’s not enough oxygen in the soil and it’s too wet. A blue-green color, slimy means it’s over-irrigated.”

“The program is adjusted each month based on general weather trends, however we recommend people adjust it at least once a year themselves,” advised Helena Wiley von Rueden of the county Water Agency.

For even more accurate adjustments, Santa Barbara County Public Works Department has a special watering index that is updated each week. It shows a percentage based on weather conditions, referring to the percentage of highest water use. On many irrigation controllers, the owner can simply adjust this percentage according to the index.

“Right now its 80 (percent) to 90 percent because it’s the hottest time of the year,” Von Rueden said. “But if people follow it every week or even every month it will save them a ton of money.”

Rain Sensor Program

In April, the Santa Barbara Water Resources Division and the Goleta Water District began giving away free rain sensors to customers of the two districts. Applicants must have an irrigation controller with in-ground sprinklers or a drip system to qualify.

The sensor shuts off sprinklers when it begins to rain, avoiding superfluous watering. It is especially vital for night-time irrigation schedules, because this is often when sprinklers are left on in the rain, unnoticed.

Before receiving a free sensor, applicants must make an appointment with the district for a brief training session and will have a follow-up visit within three months of installation.

For information about this water-saving tool, call the city of Santa Barbara at 805.564.5460 or the Goleta Water District at 805.964.6761.

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at [email protected]

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