Why are people watering on a day like TODAY?

EDITOR’S NOTE – With recent warmer temperatures across the region, many property owners are starting to irrigate their landscapes. This guest column by Randall Merriott, owner of Irrigation Dynamics in Lubbock, provides some insight into the reasons why people may be watering on a day like today!—CEM.

By Randall Merriott, CIC, CID, LI # 5817

Why in the world are THOSE PEOPLE watering their lawn on a DAY LIKE TODAY??!!

I am sure many have seen this and asked this question and may even have accompanied it with a few choice words that aren't suitable to be printed. In this article, I will try to answer this question and also give an update about some of the new smart controllers.

Here are four possible reasons:

Reason #1. They did not intend to do this. Their irrigation controller is set incorrectly. Either the current time is wrong, or the programming is wrong. On some controllers the AM and PM are so small, it is easy to confuse them. Or the power went out, and when the controller came back on, it reset itself to midnight, just like the flashing alarm clock on the nightstand.

With many controllers, it's easy to get too much going on at once. Most controllers have multiple start times and programs. Multiple start times let you cycle your system, where you water several times for a short period, reducing runoff. There may also be an A, B, C, and a D program. These let you water different stations on different days. Even though you only see one program at a time, the controller holds all of these in memory and will run ALL of them. Sometimes people accidentally set up several programs or times to go all at once. Most controllers will STACK the watering times. As soon as one program has finished, the next will come on.

Become familiar with your controller. If you've lost your manual, download a new one (see the links at the end of the article). Check the backup battery. It is probably a 9 volt alkaline battery, and it is probably dead. Many controllers have displays that are hard to read, and they are often installed in a dark corner of the garage. Make sure you have plenty of light to see when you reset your controller. If you need help, contact a Licensed Irrigator.

Reason #2. Sometimes people set their systems to water new sod or new grass seed several times per day. While sprinkling during the day is not as efficient, it is needed until new roots are established. This is temporarily allowed under some watering restrictions, though a variance from the water provider may be required.

If this is you, please make sure you reset your controller back to a normal schedule once this frequent watering is no longer needed. Don't be THAT GUY who forgets and leaves it like that all season.

Reason #3. Another reason people may be watering during the middle of a hot and windy day is they have a large system and a small water supply. While they might prefer to water early in the morning when there is less evaporation, they may have to water at inopportune times just to keep up with demand. This is not easy to remedy. One option might be to drill another well or install a bigger water meter, but we all know this isn't really a solution. A better option is to reduce the size of the landscape or convert to plants that need less water.

Reason #4. Lastly, another reason you may see sprinklers running during the middle of a hot and windy (or a cold and wet) day is that one of us irrigation folks may be repairing or maintaining a system. We would love to always work in nice weather, but conditions are often less than ideal. We do what we have to do to keep systems working properly. So, look around when you see this. If you see an irrigation truck with an irrigation license number on the side, you can put your mind at ease. Somebody is on it.

Now, the update that I promised. Smart controllers that adjust themselves according to the weather have been on the market for over a decade, but they haven't always been easy to set up and use. Now that smart phones have become popular, some manufacturers are starting to develop apps that work with Wi-Fi and/or radio frequency technology to allow you to use your smart phone to remotely operate your sprinkler system. Some are better than others, and the technology is continually improving.

The major irrigation controller manufacturers are now getting into the game. Most are able to use local weather data to adjust or shut off sprinklers. Some can connect to a home automation system allowing you to turn your sprinkler system on or off by just using your voice. Some even have the option to add a flowmeter and report high or low flow conditions, so you can have your system automatically shut itself off when there is a leak or let you know when a valve isn't opening properly. Many have plans for the contractors, so we can get information about our customers' systems and even be able to program and turn them off remotely.

Of course, all these new technologies provide even more opportunities for us to turn our sprinkler systems on or off. If you have ever dialed a number accidentally by sitting on your phone, you know what I mean. Soon, it will be possible to turn your sprinkler system on the same way!

Hopefully, we'll learn how to use these new technologies responsibly and even use them to save water.