I happened to see the movie Hunger Games which got me thinking about water. Don’t ask! Back in 2008 the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA) published a study outlining some of the future challenges golf course owners will face. Among the top three challenges was obtaining enough water to maintain their course. Well, access to water is not a problem in my part of the country . . .or so I thought.

Many courses already struggle with running out of water during drought periods. Not that we lack water in our region, but getting it where we need it in a timely, affordable manner can be a problem. Plain fact is most irrigation water supplies are undersized for extended dry spells.

Now add water quality concerns. The regulators (EPA) are watching! I’ve been told by insiders that the Ohio EPA considers golf courses to be a major water quality worry. Fear that run-off caused by inefficient irrigation systems and practices carry fertilizers and pesticides into the lakes and streams are a major source of pollutants.

Water usage is an issue. Whether based on sound science or not, the “green” movement looks at all large users of resources with suspicion. Many of such people state that golf courses are a luxury that uses way too much resource. They seek to limit or eliminate resources for golf courses.

The NGCOA report states, “How the industry, historically splintered and new to large scale campaigning, will fare in that climate is anything but clear. What is apparent is a sense that for the game to do nothing is to risk everything.” In other words, either we in the golf industry clean up our own act or the greens and regulators will take charge.

Water is only a problem in the arid sections of our country. We too will face growing regulatory oversight and costs. So what actions does our industry consider?

Here’s the good news, reducing water usage actually pays a dividend. Every hour of irrigation time that is eliminated saves money. If a course buys water from a water purveyor, its an easy cost justification for irrigation improvements.

Most courses have an onsite water source such as a lake and/or well. Saving can still be realized. It costs money to pump water. First for electricity and second for pump maintenance. Reducing usage reduces costs. In almost all scenarios, investing to improve the efficiency of the irrigation system saves money within a 3-5 year payback period.Here are the key components to improve irrigation efficiency;

Improve Distribution Uniformity (DU)

A high DU system is step one for efficient irrigation. Poor uniformity means wasted water to cover up the dry areas. An acceptable DU is 0.70 or above. Anything lower than 0.55 is really just “flood” irrigation, run it as long as it take to get everything green enough because you can’t manage it. If possible we like to achieve DU of 0.80. It is difficult to get much higher.

High DU results from a good sprinkler, spaced correctly, with the right nozzle, supplied by a hydraulically sound pipe system. This includes the pumping systems.

Smart Control

A high DU system can be operated very efficiently, or not. The control systems available make smart or intelligent control rather easy and affordable. A good control system should automate as much of the decision making as possible.

Your control system must be able to evaluate how much water is stored in the root zone and schedule irrigation accordingly. On site weather sensors to gather the information to calculate an ET rate is the most common method. Soil moisture sensors are growing in use, but generally supplement the ET data.

It is not possible for a person to be as accurate and responsive as your control computer. Not because they lack knowledge or concern, but they don’t have the time. Let the control system take charge of your scheduling.

There is some operator push back. It is claimed the scheduling is not correct so they can’t let the control system run itself. The reason is because the data entered is not complete or correct. Example, the sprinkler precipitation rates are crucial, but rarely is a measured rate entered. Catalog data might be close, but is never accurate. There are many other adjustments that have to be entered to get accurate scheduling calculations. Once done the settings hardly ever need be changed.

The control system has to manage the flow for maximum benefit. When the control system is managing the flow rate to maximize the pump system and water supply capacity, the irrigation window (how long it takes to irrigate a cycle) is drastically reduced. Thus reducing pumping costs. Demand and use flow management.

Combined a high DU system with automated ET based scheduling and flow management will reduce typical irrigation windows by 30%. There’s the cost reduction that pays for it all.

Operator Buy In

An aspect that doesn’t get much attention are the people who will operate the system. First they have to believe in it. Most do not. Proof is the only way to earn belief.

A good irrigation system takes some work to set-up. All the pertinent data needs to be entered and it must be accurate. You’ve heard garbage-in-garbage-out before, well it’s true. The software will do a nice job once completely populated with good information. An operator will believe once they see it work.

Second is knowledge. The operator needs to understand what the system is doing and why. Then they can tweak it to gain the most savings and trust it will do the job necessary. A little bit of good education is all that’s needed.

So effort and investments to save water actually pays for itself. And gives your course a good story to tell how you are conserving resources and protecting the environment. Together we can win the Water Games.

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