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Texas AgriLife Extension Service Texas Water Development Board Texas Nursery and Landscape Association Texas AgriLife Extension Service Texas AgriLife Extension Service
A supplement to the Best Management Practices Manual produced by the Texas Water Conservation Task Force.

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.

Programmatic Approaches
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
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 design;
  • 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 budgets.

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
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.
Texas A & M Irrigation Technology Center
The IA certification adoption by the New EPA Water Sense Labeling program provides irrigators with a valuable marketing advantage when working with the IA.
IA certification
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:

  • 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. 

Utility 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
  • Irrigation system review

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 following information:

  • 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 use; and
  • 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
The Irrigation Association
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 about liability.

Incentive Approach
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,
or rain barrels
Rain barrels 1
Numerous examples exist in Texas,
of these programs with rebates for different water saving irrigation measures.

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 landscape rebate.

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
Orange County MWD
have successfully used incentive programs to encourage third-party professionals to offer audit services to their customers.

Recognition Incentives
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
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.

Targeting High Water Users in Austin:
Residential Irrigation System Evaluations

The City of Austin has adopted a unique water conservation program, promoting  irrigation system evaluations, an outreach effort aimed at its highest-end users. In the irrigation evaluation program, the licensed city irrigators look at the water use records of the highest water-using residential customers. Then, using aerial photographs and GIS software, they calculate the potential water budget for the landscape using historical ET. Once the water budget has been calculated, it is compared with the actual water use of the customer. A certain amount of the water is allocated for that customer to account for indoor water use and the utility sends a letter to the customer indicating what the outdoor water use for their landscape could be using the water budget. The letter also compares the water use and the amount of money a customer could expect to save over a year, should the customer reduce their water use to the amount suggested by the water budget. Finally, the letter offers the customer a free irrigation inspection. This is a way of targeting an irrigation system evaluation, which is a time consuming practice, to those homeowners who are most likely to benefit from them and where the water savings will be maximized.

More than 350 irrigation evaluations were performed in 2005-2006 for an estimated savings of more than 35,000 gpd. Performing landscape irrigation audits can usually only be cost effective for very large landscapes due to the time required to set up the data collection from the irrigation zones, collect the data and then analyze it.  As a result the City of Austin has a more abbreviated irrigation system examination process in which the licensed irrigator runs each zone, measuring gallons of water per minute for each zone through the water meter, and observes for the following problems:

  • Broken, leaking, low, misaligned, obstructed, or tilted heads;
  • Broken, and clogged nozzles;
  • High or low pressure, and misting;
  • Overspray, wrong pattern or trajectory, or  poor coverage; and
  • Pipe leaks

The free irrigation evaluation is available to all residential customers that use over 25,000 gallons per month.  However, many of the participants in the program are new customers or those that have suffered from unusually high water bills.