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Smart Irrigation Systems Keep Landscapes in the Green

Right this second, as you read these words, billions of gallons of water waste – and the wasted money all that water costs – are pouring down business site drains across the country. The culprit – technology. Old technology that is.  There are 45 million irrigation controllers in the United Sates and the vast majority of these controllers are simply put, just timers.  They do a great job keeping time and reliably irrigating x minutes per every day they are assigned to irrigate. The problem is that these irrigation times have no relation to the landscape’s water needs or the weather.

Other than aimlessly applying water regardless of rain or shine, this old technology offers zero visibility into what is actually happening on the site. These outdated controllers are incapable of determining how much water was actually applied and if a system springs a leak, it might be hours before the maintenance team finds out.

New solutions are hitting the market, however, that provide property owners and managers with cost-effective, intelligent irrigation. These systems use real-time weather data, automation, two-way communication between controllers and sprinklers, the Internet of Things (IoT), and easy-to-use apps that run on mobile devices and more.

Smart irrigation isn’t a new concept, and a variety of systems have been available – with varying degrees of intelligence – for several years. The earliest versions aimed at addressing water scarcity. While that is still a necessity, especially in drought-ridden areas like California that now must comply with state mandated water conservation, building owners and managers are realizing that overwatering has become a major problem. Not only is it expensive, but too much water can cause significant structural and plant damage, as well as compliance violations related to excessive runoff.

Two-way wireless communications, now more affordable and ubiquitous, enables communication between central operations, remotely housed controllers and hundreds or thousands of stations and sensors. Flow sensors deployed on the grounds can share real-time data with the controllers, and the information can be used to help identify leaks, system breaks, controller setting errors, and even water theft.

The most advanced smart irrigation systems include two-way communications, but they can also automatically share real-time information with groundskeepers. Maintenance teams can effectively manage multiple sites, no matter their size, and be automatically alerted if something goes awry. Some systems even have capabilities that let teams remotely test and verify the problem before making a trip to the site. Automated scheduling that’s rules-based and site-specific, weather-adjusted irrigation (we’re talking local weather data and micro-zones that are accurate down to one square kilometer) drive proactive irrigation and help groundskeepers get ahead of problems rather than rushing from one emergency to another. The addition of IoT-enabled infrastructures and IoT-connected devices means groundskeepers can carry out a variety of irrigation and water management tasks.

Cloud computing is creating new opportunities as well. Cloud-based smart irrigation systems can be accessed and managed from anywhere, via web-based applications or smart phone apps. Reports created from all the data collected from the flow sensors, stations, weather feeds and more can render numerous insights and reports including budgeting tools or water savings. That data can then be accessed from the web and a variety of devices such as smart phones, and dissected in a variety of ways.

Today’s modern, smart irrigation systems are already helping office, industrial and other commercial property owners more effectively and intelligently manage and irrigate landscapes. Consider these examples:

With a new water reduction strategy, Starwood Hotels & Resorts has reduced its global water consumption by more than 17% since 2008, nearing its goal of a 20% reduction by 2020. Specifically, its smart irrigation system has saved about 307 million gallons of water valued at more than $2 million.

A major, national retailer installed a smart irrigation system at its new stores and retrofitted sites across the country, and the retailer cut water use by 39% on average per site. The retailer’s property managers, landscape contractors and company executives also now have remote access and visibility into the irrigation system and numerous reports.

Regency Centers, a developer, owner and operator of commercial property, installed more than 165 smart controllers to combat overwatering and reduce outdoor water consumption in 11 states with high water rates. It has since saved more than 96 million gallons of water and more than $350,000 in water and operating expenses annually.

The addition of real-time, comprehensive weather data, two-way communications, cloud computing and IoT have modernized smart irrigation systems. Building owners, managers and grounds maintenance teams can use these next-generation systems to be more proactive, maximize water savings, reduce operating costs and minimize damage and risk to their properties.

Sitting idly while overwatering costs continue to mount and damage your landscape need no longer be the case. You can avoid putting your brand and business at risk of exorbitant fines by utilizing smart irrigation technology and thereby ‘harvest’ the savings that are available just out your front door.

Chris Spain is CEO and President of HydroPoint Data Systems.

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