Implementation of Irrigation BMP
The irrigation conservation BMP is applicable for utilities with automated
irrigation systems, or who serve customers that use automated irrigation
systems. Since not all customers fall into this category, utilities implementing
irrigation surveys will need to identify their high water use customers
as a first step in determining their target audience. It is worth noting
that many customers irrigate some during the summer to keep their landscapes
alive, but do not irrigate excessively. Proper identification of high water
use customers is essential to developing the most cost-effective program.
If choosing to implement this BMP through ordinance, the requirement that
all irrigation systems have backflow preventers, which need to be inspected,
can be used as a point at which irrigation system design documents and
standards can be checked as well.
The various program approaches listed in Sections 4.0 - 4.4 can be implemented
as separate programs, or in an integrated fashion. The implementation options
discussed herein include education, incentives, and ordinance or rules approach
to reducing water waste and promoting water efficiency in landscape irrigation.
After determining the target audience, a programmatic approach focuses on
educating customers. The Green Industry, professional irrigators, irrigation
supply stores, nurseries, and home improvement stores can all be recruited
as allies in this effort. Cooperative Extension offices and Master Gardener
clubs also often have resources for training residents about drip irrigation
and proper irrigation practices. Training can be offered to professionals
and education programs or can be offered to homeowners. Water budgets and
irrigation systems maintenance are topics well suited to educational programs.
Local media outlets can also assist in educating the public. Often the local
newspaper will have a gardening editor or a radio talk-show host will share
water-saving tips with their audience or promote the utility’s programs.
TV weather reporters also have an interest in water efficiency as it relates
to changes in the seasons. The San Antonio Express-News
publishes a regular weekly notice with recommended irrigation quantities
for different local turf grasses. By co-sponsoring workshops and training
sessions with local cooperative extension offices and gardening clubs, a
utility can achieve additional targeted outreach.
The utility should consider offering the following services:
- Training in efficiency-focused landscape maintenance and irrigation system
- Notices at the start and end of the irrigation season alerting customers
to check irrigation systems and to make repairs and adjustments as necessary;
- On-site education through irrigation audits and development of water
Training Customers and Irrigators
Utility educational programs targeted to customers can focus on general topics,
which can be offered in workshops or public programs, such as water budgets,
irrigation systems design and maintenance, or they can focus on delivering
information to customers on a one-to-one basis through the irrigation system
survey and site specific water budgets. The individual approach is more
likely to result in measurable water savings, but the need to marshal technical
and staffing resources typically limits the individual approach to large
utilities with a dedicated water conservation staff.
Whichever approach is used, landscape irrigation education programs should
include the following topics:
Potential workshop topics for general public:
- Rain sensor – How they work and how to install
- ET controllers – How they work and How to use
- Drip irrigation system – How to install and maintain
- Hydrozoning principles
Training for Professional Irrigators
The IA certification
adoption by the New EPA Water Sense Labeling program provides irrigators
with a valuable marketing advantage when working with the IA.
Licensed irrigators in Texas are required to have 8 CEUs per year. By hosting
a seminars which promotes the utility irrigation conservation program and
uses speakers by the Ag extension or/a professional presenter, a utility
can attract licensed irrigators to their presentation. Utilities interested
in offering or sponsoring training with continuing education credits for
licensed irrigators should go to the TCEQ website
with links to necessary forms for accredited training sessions. The City
of Austin has offered irrigators professional training for a number of years
and has determined certain principles in presenting a successful workshop:
A municipal utility can work with local professionals, its own staff or preexisting
training programs to offer or sponsor professional irrigator training within
its service area. The Irrigation Association (IA) has education programs,
certifications for irrigation auditors and golf course irrigation auditors.
Utility can organize educational programs with the IA or with Texas A & M
Irrigation Technology Center.
- Limit fee, but do not offer for free – people believe they get
what they pay for. the city of Austin charges $50 for its irrigation training
- Provide refreshments such as a morning snack or coffee and pastry, lunch,
and an afternoon snack. Good nutrition help keep the audience alert.
- Schedule during the winter, when irrigators have more time. Classes should
be designed with required CEUs in mind, and can be either 4 hours or a
full 8-hour class.
- Potential speakers include backflow inspectors, water conservation specialists,
and plumbing inspectors from city staff.
- Classes can be held at city facilities, parks and recreation facilities,
or a local botanical or garden center.
Offering training for professional irrigators should be targeted for the
wintertime when they are less busy.
Individual Water Budgets, and On-site Irrigation Surveys
To create a cost-effective and successful program, the utility will need
to identify high summertime peak water users among its customer base. Using
customer-billing data, those customers can be offered educational programs,
free audits, or encouraged to avail themselves of professional irrigation
audit services in order to reduce their summertime water bill. Utilities
with GIS capabilities and access to aerial photos may consider more sophisticated
program targeting methods (See Austin Case Study).
Due to the differences in rainfall and growing seasons across the state
a utility will need to review its historic demand curve to determine when
to offer pre-irrigation water surveys. Choosing the month at which water
demand has historically first exceeded the monthly average water use for
the water system is a good starting point for rolling out annual irrigation
surveys. This can be anytime from early spring to early summer in Texas.
conservation programs often avoid the term “audit” to
describe irrigation system evaluations due to the negative connotation
of the term. Some alternative terms to consider are:
- Irrigation system survey
- Irrigation consultation
- Irrigation evaluation
In order to maintain water savings achieved through landscape irrigation
BMP, regular maintenance and evaluation of irrigation systems are required.
To be successful, such programs must include pre-irrigation season checks
for leaks and irrigation uniformity (Even if a full distribution uniformity
is not run every year, irrigation heads and valves can become stuck or blocked
by detritus when not used for a while). Irrigation timers should be adjusted
monthly or run manually. ET controllers need to be checked to ensure that
they are operating correctly. If the utility chooses to promote irrigation
audits performed by landscape contractors, a copy of an inspection report
for the customer should become an expectation that the utility promotes.
In its evaluation report to the customer, the utility may also include the
- A list of landscape areas, measurements, plant types, irrigation system
hydrozones, and controller(s);
- A list of existing irrigation policies or procedures including maintenance
and irrigation schedules;
- A distribution uniformity analysis on irrigated turf areas;
- A review of water bills with attention to the ratio of summer to winter
- An initial report summarizing the results of the evaluation.
Approximately one-year after conducting an irrigation audit, the utility
should consider conducting a customer-satisfaction survey. The objective
of the customer-satisfaction survey is to determine the implementation rate
of recommended modifications and to gauge customer satisfaction with the
program. The utility should consider implementing a notification program
to remind customers of the need for maintenance and adjustments in irrigation
schedules as the seasons change
More aggressive irrigation programs can offer free irrigation system audits
by trained utility conservation staff as well as offering their multi-level
or licensed irrigation survey programs with incentives. A description of
how to perform an irrigation audit can be found at:
in addition to the values recommended in for determining a coefficient of
uniformity (CU) a Distribution Uniformity (DU) value can be calculated by
dividing the lowest 25% of values by the average of all values collected
from your cups. The Irrigation Association also include a description of
uniformity analysis in its BMP
and a description for performing the audit in the workbook, Certified
Landscape Irrigation Auditor. (Irrigation Association, August 2001).
A professional irrigation firm could offer advantages in delivering irrigation
audits including a greater level of detail in the survey, and additional
services, such as irrigation head replacement. City attorneys often instruct
utility staff not to touch customer irrigation equipment due to concerns
or rain barrels
examples exist in Texas,
of these programs with rebates for different water saving irrigation measures.
Incentives for irrigation audits and systems upgrades can include rebates,
recognition for water-efficient landscapes (through signage and award programs),
and certification of irrigation professionals and volunteer representatives
who can promote the Program. The simplest types of incentive programs include
rebates for rain sensors, SWAT controllers,
Another approach to financial incentives is to offer rebates for part of
the cost of having irrigation system audits performed by professionals. This
can take the form of rebates for specific equipment retrofitted – as
in new irrigation heads or a pressure regulator – which helps fix problems
found during an audit. It could also include partial costs of the audit itself,
especially if the customer shows evidence of implementing audit recommendations
through reduced water use. It
is also possible to combine an irrigation system standard with a water saving
As a requirement for landscape rebates (see Section 3.8) SAWS requires customers
to obtain an irrigation system check up by a SAWS conservation technician.
Less detailed than a distribution uniformity analysis,
the check up includes:
- A review of hydrozones;
- General maintenance overview;
- A backflow preventer which has been inspected properly;
- Visible evidence that the irrigation system does not overspray onto
hardscape or non-plant areas, excessive pooling, or evidence of lack
of complete coverage.
Some regional water authorities like have successfully used incentive
programs to encourage third-party professionals to offer audit services
to their customers.
A utility can recognize irrigators who have been certified by the IA Water
Sense or TAMU. Performance tracking of water use after each irrigation
services can reward the irrigation professional by grading the performance.
Recognition can include listing certified irrigators on a utility website,
in the local newspaper or in a flyer/brochure published by the utility
and distribute to utility customers at events, on city counters, by the
licensed irrigators themselves, or in bill stuffers.
Recognition programs have the benefit of professional irrigators assisting
in promotion of the program at no additional cost to the utility other than
administering the program. The certification program provides an incentive
to the professional irrigation company to promote conservation as a part
of their firm’s marketing efforts.
Utilities which are prepared to offer customer’s information online,
can integrate their program and assist customers in tracking their water
use. Municipal Water District of Orange County, CA has a program which combines customer water budgets with irrigator certification,
and Web-based resources for the customer and irrigator to track the relationship
between water use and the budget if an irrigator’s customer repeatedly
fails to meet their budget, the irrigator can lose their certification.
Another incentive which could be implemented is a performance based incentive,
similar to those offered by utility management firms to large commercial
and multi-family customers. The principle underlying such incentives is that
the reduced costs of water savings are shared between to customer and the
contractor. A utility could assist in promoting such performance-based contracting
by helping identify target water savings based on 80% of ET. Recognized or
certified contractors could guarantee their clients (the utility customers)
to meet such water budgets. The customer could use the anticipated water
savings from the budget to determine their financial capacity to purchase
the water savings measures offered by the irrigation contractor. Like the
Orange County example above, the utility can promote success by removing contractor
certification if they fail to achieve the projected savings.
Incentive programs are also useful for municipally-owned utilities wishing
to provide a transition period in anticipation of new ordinance requirements.
Rain sensor rebates have been combined with ordinances so that customers
were given a limited time opportunity to voluntarily retrofit their sprinkler
system with an approved rain sensor prior to an ordinance requiring rain
sensors taking effect. Utilities like SAWS and Dallas Water Utility have
offered these temporary rebates for rain sensors.