Florida Friendly Landscaping: How to Save Water through “Smart” Irrigation systems
Article written by UF/IFAS Extension Broward County Horticulture Extension Agent: Lorna Bravo
Water quality and quantity are essential topics that are in everyone’s mind. Florida’s current population of more than 21 million and 1,000 people moving to Florida each day, our landscapes play an essential role in the state’s economy and quality of life. Irrigation is often used to maintain high-quality residential landscapes in Florida and can be a substantial component of a home’s total potable water use. Irrigation can account for 59% of full residential freshwater consumption in the United States (Mayer et al. 1999) Florida’s watering of lawns and landscapes represents the single most significant use of water from municipal water supplies (Haley et al. 2007).
Were you aware that half of all potable (drinking) water in South Florida is from outdoor irrigation?
How are we addressing the problem?
Water demands are expected to increase with time. Implementing sustainable irrigation practices is vital to conserving water for future use. Florida-Friendly Landscaping saves water and protects the environment using native and drought-tolerant Landscaping, with proper maintenance and water-wise irrigation. According to the Florida Water 2070 report reducing landscape irrigation, is the single most effective strategy to reduce water demand in Florida. This strategy will conserve water and will result in savings to homeowners through reduced water bills. You can read more about our Florida-Friendly landscaping program: https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/
How is irrigation efficiency improving with new technology?
Irrigation systems have been under pressure to produce more with lower supplies of water.
What Makes an Irrigation Controller Smart?
The so-called “smart” irrigation controllers have appeared on the market for use in residential and commercial applications since the early 2000s. The Irrigation Association (www.irrigation.org) defines “smart controllers” as controllers that reduce outdoor water use. The controllers monitor and use information about site conditions (such as soil moisture, wind, rain, slope, soil, plant type, and more), and applying the right amount of water based on those factors”. Weather-based irrigation controllers (WBICs) are our new generation of smart irrigation controllers. They use current weather data to adapt irrigation schedules appropriately.
Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) WaterSense Program
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) encourages water efficiency through the Water Sense program and marks WBICs once a third party has certified them. They meet efficiency and performance criteria detailed in the Water Sense Specification for Weather-Based Irrigation Controllers. Water Sense labeled controllers must be able to meet the watering needs of a landscape without overwatering adequately. They meet efficiency and performance criteria detailed in the Water Sense Specification for Weather-Based Irrigation Controllers. Water Sense labeled controllers must be able to meet the watering needs of a landscape without overwatering adequately.
Our New Generation of Smart Irrigation Technology
Were you aware that there are over 800 models of weather-based controllers that have the EPA Water Sense label?
There are many options. Your smartphone entirely controls some. The water conservation potential of these technologies in the landscape ranges depends on weather conditions and site conditions. Typically, irrigation savings can be as high as 30–40% during dry conditions and up to 70–90% during normal Florida rainfall conditions for properly installed and programmed Smart Controllers.
Remember that Improperly managed ‘hi-tech’ systems can be as wasteful and unproductive as poorly managed traditional systems.
Maintaining Savings Once a WaterSense labeled controller has been installed.
The Water Sense labeled controller automatically takes care of seasonal weather- and site-specific adjustments, thereby not requiring constant monitoring. It is essential to note that no irrigation control system should be installed based on “set it and forget it.” Users will need to periodically inspect the landscape to ensure that the irrigation system is performing correctly. Users should spend a couple of weeks monitoring their yard, and if everything looks lush and green, homeowners can try adjusting down the water budget feature on the controller to feel comfortable with a balance that is both water-efficient and healthy for their plants.
Follow the University of Florida’s nine Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles and learn how “smart” irrigation systems can help save water and enjoy your beautiful yard! Contact UF/IFAS Extension Broward County Florida-Friendly Landscaping program to learn about its nine principles to create a more sustainable yard or to request a garden tour of our native landscape, phone (954 756-8519) or visit us online at http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/broward/urban-horticulture-and-natural-resources/broward-master-gardener; http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/broward/