Water-Saving Technology

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  • September 9, 2013

In many ways, the role of technology in our 21st-century lives doesn’t even register. Today, when even an average smartphone packs more computing punch than the last Apollo space mission, only truly exceptional tech is newsworthy.

That may explain why many industries are still not adopting new technologies that improve water efficiency – that’s according to extensive research carried out by Australia’s Nursery and Garden Industry Association. The NGIA report concluded that increased use of technology could save more than 115 billion litres of water every year in commercial nurseries across Australia.

Business owners expect to see a healthy financial return from new technology, and many prefer to stick with traditional methods, learned through years on the job. Equipment manufacturers don’t always present results with the user’s interests in mind, and at Reliable Plumbing, we believe there’s a credibility gap that we’re doing our best to fill.

Take a look at technology, some state-of-the-art, some tried-and-tested, that can help you save water – and money!

Traditional Mechanical Technology

Maybe traditional irrigation methods have served you well over the years? Maybe … but whether you drip-feed, sprinkle, spray or flood, if you haven’t updated your equipment recently, chances are you’re wasting water. Start with the basics – do you measure your water usage? We’re always surprised that so many sites don’t have water meters. If that includes you, get one installed now. You can’t calculate savings if you don’t know where you started …

Review the condition of your reticulation and distribution pipework. Replacing pipelines, pumps, filters and valves that are well past their sell-by date makes a dramatic difference. Modern pipes are designed to entrain less dirt, create less head loss and allow less fungal and algaic growth. Add new pumps, screen filters and solenoid valves, and your system will respond to variations in supply pressure and flow demand like never before!

Modern sprinklers and spray nozzles deliver uniform, accurately directed water streams exactly where they’re needed. Replacing ageing hardware – often installed piecemeal as the growing area expands – with purpose-built units from a single manufacturer allows you to balance a watering zone accurately, equalising pressure and delivery rates. You’ll use less water and avoid under- and overwatering into the bargain.

Flood irrigation is still appropriate for some crops, but many large-scale operations can benefit from modern drip-control and root-delivery systems that offer a highly efficient alternative. Accurate control of water delivery to small zones or individual plants, even at low flow rates, ensures that you eliminate waste while maintaining a healthy crop. You’ll be amazed at how high-tech a length of tubing can be …

Electronic Technology

In our opinion, today’s widely available and increasingly affordable electronic control equipment offers the most significant water-saving opportunities. Even basic SMART controllers now feature real-time flow monitoring, programmable delivery schedules, seasonal adjustment and rain-delay options. A single controller looks after multiple zones, ensuring that water is delivered exactly as it’s needed, at a rate and for a duration that suit the prevailing weather and the time of year.

Modern weather sensors provide data that earlier generations couldn’t even visualise. If you aren’t monitoring sunshine, rain, wind, evaporation, transpiration (often measured jointly as “evapotranspiration” or ET) and soil moisture, you’re wasting water. The key to efficient irrigation is to adjust delivery to suit the prevailing conditions – whether too hot and dry or too cold and wet – and ensure your plants receive only that water they need for healthy growth.

Soil-moisture sensors deserve a special mention. Correctly selected, installed and monitored, these devices can transform your water efficiency. Consider carefully what information you need – this will vary according to your irrigation methods, your plants, your soil type and your budget. The NGIA study showed that nurseries could halve town water usage by using soil-moisture sensors to modify watering schedules based on actual need.

Operations that rely on a combination of town water and local storage from dams or tanks often suffer from variable supply pressure at times of peak demand. Pressure sensors and flow metering devices in each irrigation zone provide instant feedback if delivery becomes suboptimal, triggering alarms and activating booster pumps when necessary.

Computer-Based Technology

Even today, when computer-literacy is at an all-time high, many business owners and facilities managers remain reluctant to adopt central, PC-based control systems for their operations. Often, it’s difficult to demonstrate the payback from this type of investment, and there are still many who prefer more traditional methods of water-management. All we can say is, if you don’t consider changing your approach, you could be missing a huge opportunity.

It may sound like Big Brother, but the operational efficiency savings alone justify a single, site-wide control system in most cases. Typically PC-based, these systems provide a graphical view of your entire site, modelled using GPS technology, and allow you to monitor status of any area with the click of a mouse button.

PC-control systems talk directly to your SMART controllers in each watering zone, reporting water usage, current status and exceptions. You can access the system directly or remotely using wireless technology, smartphone or hard-wired cable. Not only can you program your entire site from a single location, you can monitor and adjust individual zones as conditions change without having to waste time actually going there.

Expect easy-to-interpret reports, usually presented as graphs or pie-charts, that give you a complete picture of your site’s water health. Properly installed and operated, a site-wide control system makes your life noticeably easier.

However, don’t assume that these are off-the-shelf packages that you can simply fit and forget. A computer-based system brings together every element of your irrigation system – without investing in the supporting technology in the first place, it just won’t work.

So start with the basics – check your reticulation and other infrastructure, upgrade your mechanical equipment and introduce SMART controllers across your site. Only then you can begin to enjoy the benefits of an irrigation operation that’s truly technology-driven.

What Tech is Right for Me? Let us Show You …

At Reliable Plumbing, we’re commercial irrigation specialists with many years of experience and as new technology becomes available, we check it out. Whether you’re looking after a golf course, landscaped gardens or an agricultural business, we can help you choose and install the equipment you need. If you need further information or advice, call us on 1300 78 20 40 any time. We’re there to help.