Irrigation is often the most challenging part of landscaping. What are the benefits of irrigation management systems for your green space?

The Pixar film WALL-E features the line “I don’t want to survive, I want to live.” In the film, set in the year 2805, Earth is abandoned, covered in garbage, and has no plant life. WALL-E, a robot trash collector, is left behind to clean up. One day, WALL-E discovers a healthy seedling and the journey begins to restore hope that Mother Nature will begin again.

In reality, we are not there…yet. But the similarities exist, particularly as we look into space exploration, finding habitable planets, artificial intelligence and robotics, and are faced with Antarctic melting, climate change, and global warming.

Irrigation water management in Australia may seem like small potatoes compared to such issues, but water is also a requirement to sustain life.

Our focus can’t always be on economic outcomes. Government and developers need to consider such factors as health and well-being, sustainability, social gatherings and community building. The 202020™ vision is to make urban areas 20 per cent greener by 2020, among other things. We want to have liveable cities and beautiful landscapes, but this often requires additional watering in the drier months, depending on the type of landscape.

Whilst landscape architects can create gardens that use less water via knowledgeable planting, the result is not to have every landscape the same, and as such, supplemental watering will sometimes be required.

And as irrigation needs are specified for many landscapes, retail outlets, shopping centres, franchises, parks, schools and more, who looks after the watering once the contractors have left?

How can we water to sustain the landscape for beautification, ensuring the value of commercial properties is maintained without increasing our ongoing costs?

We can use less water, sometimes achieving better results. We can save time and money by not driving to every site on routine checks. We can remove the need to replace dead plants due to under and over-watering, and save maintenance costs due to movement in soil structure on pathways and pavements.

Australia has all types of service providers – plumbing, electrical, heating, cooling, landscape maintenance – yet irrigation does not appear to have a dedicated service provider on a larger professional scale.

There are opportunities to gain knowledge regarding irrigation through a range of certifications that are self-regulated and self-managed. The end goal is a future where all irrigation systems are developed by certified irrigation designers, installed by certified irrigation contractors/installers, and run by certified irrigation operators or managers whilst receiving up-to-date product advice from certified irrigation retailers.

The urban irrigation system is quite a complex industry for regulation, as irrigators need to know about product selection (manufacturing), sprinkler uniformity, hydraulics to work out the correct pipe sizes (engineering), electrical, soil-plant relationships (landscape horticulture), pumping characteristics and selection, rainwater tanks and backflow prevention (plumbing) and how much water to apply (irrigation scheduling or water management).

The competitive tendering process is a complex one, and not everything that starts out as part of the plan makes the final cut. The construction landscaper and irrigator are often the last on site. Quite often the allocated budgets at the start of the project are absorbed well before the landscape and irrigation begins, ultimately placing pressure on all parties to deliver a result that is amicable and yet maintains the initial brief. Certain reductions and compromises are sometimes made.

It is often not the contractor’s responsibility to manage the system long after they have left and handed a property over to the end user, property manager, or service provider. Irrigation is not their core experience, and yet they are given a system that can use thousands of dollars in water costs alone. The reliance is the irrigation controller and the assurance that yes the system is automatic. This was the same theory in Wall-E: leave everything to the robots and it will all be fine.

Water managers can be found but they are few and far between. However, with more discussion on how to save and manage water efficiently and continue to increase the awareness of the irrigation industry, this can be changed and can even provide business opportunities and growth.

Sometimes the water managers are contractors in that business, and sometimes they’re irrigation specifiers or consultants. The way they do business is changing rapidly because professionals are no longer geographically limited by how close the system is that is being managed.

There are tens of thousands of irrigation timers installed every year, and most are still operated as simple timers. Water reporting can be more easily prepared from the ever growing list of connected controllers directly on Smart networks, Wi-Fi and with irrigation manufacturers now more transparent with ease of connecting into BMS or building automation systems through APIs to assist this monitoring.

Five ways a water management service can help:

  • It can provide a plan by establishing the available budget for sustainability initiatives, minimum payback requirement and timing to reduce water by 40 per cent and achieve a payback within three years.
  • It can prioritize the portfolio of irrigation sites based on opportunities; water and expense savings, watering restrictions in time allocation or compliance. It makes it easier to upgrade the site with a smart irrigation package, add flow sensors to detect non-working sprinklers or pipe breakages normally not detected for months as most irrigation is applied in the middle of the night, create customer watering program, document site maintenance condition, create monthly water use goals and establish an inspection schedule.
  • It can train property management and contractors on program goals and their roles in achieving success.
  • It can monitor sites for weather, programming, and system changes whist tracking equipment status and site alerts with agreed inspections time frames.
  • It can limit liability in open spaces, reduce damage from over-watering and provide monthly reporting to track minimum payback requirement, water savings performance and irrigation repairs.

Irrigation products are like anything; they need servicing, maintenance and most importantly scheduling that is consistently monitored to reduce watering from the initial establishment program the irrigation contractor and landscaper had programmed to keep the landscape alive and vibrant until handover.

If you have a site that has irrigation and don’t know really know how much water is being used and what costs you are paying, if you have an irrigation system requiring constant upgrades and high plant cost replacement, or if you have an ever growing portfolio of sites that are difficult and geographically challenging to keep track of, perhaps an irrigation water manager is required. Nothing can be completely automatic forever.