By Annalisa Purser
If you’ve ever taken the time to program a home sprinkler system, you might wonder how a campus as big and diverse as the University of Utah manages its irrigation needs, and if it’s possible to streamline water use on a growing campus.
It is a big task, and the U is committed to being a responsible environmental steward. The landscape department within Facilities Management employs a nine-person irrigation team with more than 110 years of collective experience in landscape maintenance, horticulture and plant science, and their secret weapon is an irrigation system called Maxicom, which is the next best thing to a weather crystal ball.
Seven years ago, Facilities Management invested in the high-tech system, which allows landscape maintenance technicians to regulate watering duration and amount with detailed precision based on real-time data. The system tracks climate and moisture changes, solar radiation, wind speed, temperature, humidity and rainfall through a weather station on campus.
The system is vast. A central computer runs the program—12 cluster control units perched atop buildings throughout campus remotely sends signals to 172 clocks that control between 5 and 40 stations each for a total of 2,688 stations.
The majority of watering on campus happens over night, between 6 p.m. and 10 a.m., but sometimes sprinklers are on during the day. If you happen to catch a #RogueSprinkler, here’s what to know:
- New plants: New landscape or sod requires may require additional moisture to take root. In the hottest months, those areas are typically watered at approximately 2 p.m. as needed. These areas will continue to be watered until the sod is established, which can take 2-3 weeks.
- Maintenance: While Maxicom is able to register large leaks, broken heads or stuck valves are harder to detect. Sprinklers on during the day may mean maintenance technicians are in the area trying to fix a problem. If you see a white truck or an irrigation technician nearby, it’s likely a maintenance issue being resolved.
- #RogueSprinkler: Facilities Management does its best to responsibly irrigate campus, but our technicians can’t be everywhere at once. We need your help finding problem spots. If you don’t see a white truck or a technician nearby when a sprinkler is on during the day, call Facilities Management at 801-581-7221. A landscape technician will be dispatched immediately to address the problem.
Additionally, landscape teams have been working to adjust landscape designs so watering systems can be even more efficient. Areas that have a mix of sod and shrub beds and are managed with just one sprinkler zone are being adjusted.
In some cases, a drip irrigation system for the shrubs is installed and sprinklers are moved to grassy areas. Many of these sprays and rotors have been transitioned to pressure-reducing heads with matched precipitation-rate nozzles. This improves the consistency of the water application to help reduce overwatering. Maxicom is also set up to cycle and soak the irrigation zones according to the slope and soil type. The cycle/soak may take longer to complete the irrigation cycle but allows for deeper saturation and reduced run off.
@HomeTip: Many homeowners turn on their irrigation systems in the spring and let it run all summer without making any changes to the programs. In cooler weather, less water is required. Our irrigation specialists suggest reducing watering times in the cooler months to save water. Many residential clocks have a water budget or percent adjust feature that makes it easy to reduce times on all stations with one simple step.System maintenance prevents problems as well. Test your system at least once a month.Also, if possible, separate sprinklers that water shrubs from those that water grass. Mature shrubs require much less water than grassy areas. Finally, pressure-reducing heads are readily available for residential sprinkler systems and are very affordable. Just remember to adjust your sprinkler time if you make the change.Slow the Flow provides free water checks to help you use the right amount of water for your landscape. To schedule a free appointment, visit slowtheflow.org/index.php/forms/free-water-check.
Annalisa Purser is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at email@example.com.