July is SMART Irrigation month. Heavily promoted by the Irrigation Association, its purpose is to educate the public about water conserving irrigation products and practices.

Water Conservation for Golf Courses

SIM_COLOR(1)Do golf courses in the Midwest need to be concerned about water conservation? The simple answer is yes. However, I fully understand that saving water is not a critical issue in these parts. We tend to worry more about too much water! Thus water conservation is way at the bottom of our priority lists.

According to the NGF, the Midwest is prime territory for golf courses precisely because we tend to receive an appropriate amount of rainfall. Irrigation is more supplemental than an absolute requirement. Not so in areas of our nation where water is a premium. There we can’t grow grass without it and it’s becoming more costly and restricted every year.

However, saving water has benefits; even around here. For those with limited storage or buying irrigation water from costly public water systems, the need to save water can be an important way to reduce cost and guarantee water availability.

How To Reduce Irrigation Water

Products and practices are how every golf course can reduce their irrigation water requirement.

Water Saving Practices:

  • Reduce your irrigated area.

In the old days fairways were rather narrow with single row irrigation layouts. In the 1980s fairways began to grow wider and the irrigation layouts were increased to handle the growing acreage.  They soon grew to the point that some courses were irrigating the entire property (wall to wall). The extra groomed turf also meant an increase in chemical applications and additional mowing time, so other costs went up too.

One method to reduce irrigation water requirements is to irrigate less area. Fairways are narrowing and naturalized areas are growing. This is also making golf courses a great place for wildlife, which the environmentalist love.

  • Lower Your Quality Acceptance.

Lush green courses have been the rage since the TV age. Golfers everywhere wanted their clubs or courses to look like those they see on TV. It takes water to be that lush. Courses are now lowering the aesthetic criteria and focusing just on the play conditions. Play conditions and healthy turf can be maintained with less water.

Water Conserving Irrigation systems

Irrigation manufactures have introduced many water saving features.  Here are the key factors to consider when trying to reduce water usage;

  • High Distribution Uniformity (DU).

DU means higher application uniformity. Achieving higher DU could mean costly renovation. DU is a function of head spacing, nozzle selection, and pressure control. For many systems that means new sprinklers, altered sprinkler spacing, and some additional equipment to insure the sprinkler operate at the correct pressure. Uniformity is important to reduce over-watering large areas to get enough water to small dry areas.

DU can be measured via collection cup testing. It’s something that’s worth testing just so you know how well your irrigation system is applying water. Sometimes there are less costly activities that can improve your DU, such as replacing nozzles or better controlling your operating pressure. Testing DU will help flag options to improve.

Good DU is above 75, OK is above 60, anything lower is in the not-so-hot range. Unfortunately many courses are under 60. Just getting above 60 will make a big difference in water savings. Good DU also helps reduce run-off!

  • Schedule to Meet Plant Water Requirements

The old rules of thumb for sprinkler run time, such as how many rotations or minutes, have to change. Think in inches of application. Example; you schedule to apply .18 inches for an irrigation cycle.

The inches you apply per irrigation cycle should match how much water you need to replenish in the turf root zone. Some method to measure or estimate root zone moisture levels must be used. Weather stations of downloaded ET information are a couple examples.

Every day will be different so there are no magic application numbers. Ample hardware/software options are available. Some will give you numbers to manually plug into your central while others will automate your cycle scheduling.

The concept is simple, only apply the water that’s necessary at a particular time. Common scheduling methods apply a certain amount of water whether its enough or too little.

  • Schedule to Eliminate Run-Off

Unless you are irrigating sand, most systems apply water faster than your soil can absorb it. That’s when run-off occurs, which is wasted water (its going somewhere other than where you wanted it) and causes environmental issues.

Most centrals include facilities to eliminate run-off, often called “Cycle-n-Soak.” The central will determine how long a sprinkler can operate before run-off will occur and automatically break up a run time into 2 or more cycles. Even most standalone satellites have some ability to accomplish run-off control. The key is to use it.

Conserving water almost always has a financial payback. Work with a knowledgeable irrigation professional to estimate how much. Saving water in some parts of the country is an absolute must. Saving water is environmentally conscience. Being a wise steward means you want to save water. The product and practices exist now.

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