The goal of any irrigation system is to give plants and turf areas a sufficient amount of water without waste. Recent reports based on actual irrigation system evaluations in Montgomery, Harris and Ft. Bend counties has demonstrated that at least 90 percent of residents who have irrigation systems water too often…and 43 percent of that water runs off into the gutter and ultimately into the storm drain.

You keep putting off checking the system controller. “It’s not hurting the grass,” you think, “so what’s the harm?” Besides wasting water and money, too much water actually does harm your lawn. Overwatering encourages turf to grow shallow roots which cause the grass to stress if water isn’t available. Your irrigation system should also be turned off during winter months, when native grasses like St. Augustine are DORMANT, and need no more water than Mother Nature provides. All installed irrigation systems should include an automatic rain sensor shut-off device.

Here are some things you can do to maximize the use of your irrigation system and avoid wasting precious drinking water and your money:

  1. Work with a licensed irrigator* to design, maintain, and operate an efficient irrigation system; this will also help you conserve water and save money. If you already have an irrigation system in place, consider having your irrigation system evaluated by a Licensed Irrigator to determine if there are any leaks, broken heads or rotors, and to confirm that the system is operating efficiently.
  2. Hydrozone your Yard… Since January of 2009, the rules of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) require all new irrigation systems to be hydrozoned. Applying only the amount of water required by the plant material versus watering everything the same can save up to 21,300 gallons of water annually on a typical residential lot. Your plan should prioritize delivering appropriate amounts of water to the different “zones” – shrub areas, flower beds, and turfgrass. Also take into account that shrubs or turf exposed to afternoon sun need more water than those protected by the shade.
  3. Find and fix irrigation system leaks! A typical residential 5/8” or 3/4” water meter will flow about 13 gallons of water per minute. Your system likely runs while you are asleep so leaks may have gone unobserved. Imagine a broken pipe leaking all day while you are away from home. After 8 hours, more than 6,000 gallons of water could be wasted down the drain. When your system is underground it is difficult to find leaks until they appear. So, if there’s a spike in your water bill, or there are persistent soggy areas in the yard, don’t delay in scheduling a professional audit/evaluation of your system, and then repair any pipe leaks or broken, leaky heads that are confirmed.
  4. Timing is EVERYTHING! Set the controller to deliver a water efficient watering schedule, completing the watering cycle before 4:00 am to avoid the peak morning household water demand, and to avoid excessive evaporation that occurs in strong sunlight. Adopt a technique called “Cycle and Soak”. This method applies water slowly so the soil actually can absorb it. The key here is to water only as long as it takes to get moisture down into the soil, and that could be as little as 10 minutes or as many as 20, depending on the soil, so wait an hour to schedule the next cycle. Do a test run; turn on a zone to discover at what length of time water is no longer soaking into the soil, and begins to run off. Use that amount of time to set the first programmed “cycle”. Set the timer to come on again after an hour, to deliver a similar amount of water. Technically, while you may be watering more often, the system is delivering the same amount of water…only it is being utilized more efficiently!
  5. Overspray – WHAT A WASTE! The TCEQ rules governing irrigation in Texas do not allow spraying water over impervious surfaces such as walls, fences, sidewalks, and streets. The reason for this rule is simple – it just wastes water. It may cost more to design and install a system that does not spray onto these surfaces, but in the long run, having an efficient irrigation system that conserves our most precious natural resource is worth it.
  6. The Effects of Pressure on Irrigation Systems – Irrigation systems do not perform well when the pressure is too high. Most spray systems operate best with 30 pounds of pressure per square inch (psi) at the nozzle. According to the Rain Bird Corporation, for every five pounds of pressure over the recommended operating pressure at the nozzle, your system will waste 6 percent to 8 percent of the irrigation water. Ask your Licensed Irrigator how this can be remedied…perhaps by adding some type of pressure regulation to your system.

Remember, when all is said and done… irrigation systems don’t waste water, people do.  Consider using drip irrigation whenever possible.

* As of 2009, Texas irrigators are required to be licensed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).