A Landscape Survey Can Save Water & Money – Article by WaterWise Consulting Inc
Unless a HOA property started out with a landscape design of plants native to the area, there is the potential to save money on HOA water bills and have healthier plants by watering the landscape more efficiently. Most gardeners or landscapers don’t do it, because they don’t know what to do, and may not realize how much the Board of Directors might be paying for water bills.
The way to find out how to cut back, where to cut back, and how much to cut back (or IF to cut back) is to have a survey taken of the existing system. I recently lived in a HOA condo complex that was badly maintained and designed and could have saved at least 60% on their water bills, if they had known what to do.
The water savings potential of a landscape will be determined by several things:
- Existing irrigation components compared with water-efficient components on the market.
- Controller programming and irrigation maintenance problems.
- Types of existing plants and their compatibility with local climate conditions.
- The match between actual water use and the needs of existing plants.
The length of time such a survey will take and the relative cost of it will depend on how large the HOA’s grounds are, how difficult they are to navigate, and how far apart the irrigation stations and their controllers are.
It will also depend on the skills of the surveyor. A professional surveyor will take half the time of an amateur and will be more thorough as well, the end result more than making up for the time and cost.
Components of a survey.
Whether your maintenance supervisor or landscaper conducts the survey, or accompanies a professional water conservation contractor, these are the steps that will need to be taken.
- Identify water meter locations and test for leaks. Obtain the water bill that goes with each meter to provide current use.
- Look for plant health and compatibility with the environment. Native plants and their garden hybrids require the least watering, since they are already acclimated. Other plants will need to receive supplemental watering.
- Find the irrigation controllers and check their programming. These are the clocks that run the irrigation system. Each controller has several stations (timers) hooked up to sets of sprinklers in different locations to provide optimal watering for that location.
- Turn each station on and flag problems with irrigation nozzles. Popup spray heads and rotors could be tilted sideways, clogged by small stones, have leaks in the pipes, or the spray head might be entirely missing so that water shoots up in a geyser. Each of these very common problems and others result in wasted water.
- Look to make sure that all the sprinklers on one station are of the same type – all rotors or all spray heads. Because rotors and spray heads send out different amounts of water, they need to have different schedules. Bushes and grass need to be watered by different stations too, so look to make sure that all the plants on one station are of the same type.
- At a representative station or two, run a uniformity test to make sure everything you want to be watered IS being watered, i.e. that the sprinklers are covering the ground they’re supposed to.
- Check sample areas for soil type and water pressure. Clay soils will require a different type of watering schedule than other soils, since water absorbs slowly in clay soils. If the water pressure is too low the spray won’t reach out far enough, or if it’s too high the water will mist and be blown away by the wind.
- Evaluation, computation, and reporting. The inventory, the actual water use (from bills), the plant and maintenance data, the soil types, the water pressure, and current irrigation programming, the local weather zones, the equipment currently available on the market will all have to be computed and compiled into a final report that provides recommended actions to improve efficiency.
It doesn’t need to be mentioned that the survey and resulting report will not save water in and of themselves. They are essential tools to help a HOA Board or property manager make sensible decisions about what to do to create a more efficient system. The Board will still have to take action to make the changes that will save the water.
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