Are we all doing enough to minimise water wastage? No matter what your surface, be it a golf course, sports pitch, training ground, park or large garden, all turf professionals have water considerations and it's important to assess whether we are managing our precious water resource as effectively and efficiently as possible.
In this article, Reesink Turfcare's irrigation manager, Robert Jackson, outlines three steps to more responsible irrigation management and says that, without following good irrigation practice, water can easily drain away.
"With environmental pressures becoming more prevalent, and rightly so, irrigated sites must be seen to be managing water responsibly - especially if they are also drawing it from the mains. There are those who have completely embraced water sustainability by using boreholes or reservoirs for their irrigation. It is great to see more people in the industry moving towards such long-term, sustainable irrigation methods, but it's not just these large leaps that make a difference. Get the basics of irrigation management and maintenance right and water wastage can be minimised. Some UK sites are already seeing big benefits from using water more efficiently by implementing some of the following steps:
1) KNOW YOUR IRRIGATION SYSTEM
Water is the lifeblood of your venue, and the pipework of the irrigation system conveys it to all the vital organs; for example, the greens of a golf course or the centre of your pitch. Having an old system could mean losing up to twenty-five percent of water, which will seep away instead of reaching its required destination. This is not only a needless waste of water and money, that could be prevented, but it also puts the health of your turf at risk.
As well as regular routine maintenance, it is wise to undertake a thorough check of your irrigation system every five years or so to avoid such losses and ensure all is running smoothly. This provides a good opportunity to assess how it is performing and consider what improvements could be made to save water and keep turf in optimum condition. If you are unsure of how to check your system, call in an irrigation expert to guide you - they will likely be happy to help.
Of course, most would prefer to be able to confidently navigate their irrigation system unassisted. So, after hearing turf professionals say there is a lack of irrigation training available to them, Reesink teamed up with irrigation specialists Aquaturf to deliver a series of free training days.
The latest was held at Windlesham Golf Club, where attendees were shown what potential system faults look like and taught how to identify and resolve them in a proactive manner. If you'd like to develop a trained eye for system management, watch this space for the next one!
2) UTILISE TECHNOLOGY
Professional irrigation management is a skill in itself, but can be greatly assisted with the right technology. The control system acts as the brain of your irrigation system, gathering important information which determines where water will be sent and how much. Without a fully functioning control system, your entire irrigation system could cease to work. But there's no point in settling for one that is merely 'functional'; for longer-term benefits, it is worth choosing an intuitive control system. Technology has moved on so quickly these last few years that this investment could cut your job by half, while saving huge volumes of water.
An intuitive control system gives the operator access to comprehensive information such as weather and pump station set-up, sprinkler performance, intelligent field controller data and soil sensor levels. This makes a world of difference because knowledge, as they say, is power. Particularly as we have recently experienced unpredictable weather - from surprise heat waves, to sudden downpours - having an intuitive control system allows you to respond to these unexpected changes in real-time. Knowing the exact conditions your turf faces will lead to more informed and ecological decisions, as you will only use the water required to sustain it.
Plus, this sort of intelligent control system can be accurately tailored to precise conditions and requirements, meaning it will respond exactly to the needs of specific areas and, therefore, allow optimal management of water. This is integral to good irrigation practice as every area of turf is different.
Applying a set amount to all parts of your course or pitch is a fool's errand as salinity, temperature and moisture levels will vary widely across your site and constantly change due to external environmental circumstances.
Soil monitoring systems
For detecting changes in moisture, temperature and salinity levels, soil monitoring systems are the way forward. The invaluable data they record enables more informed adjustments to your irrigation schedule which, in turn, means only the necessary amount of water is used to maintain optimum turf health. As well as water-saving benefits, these systems can help prevent browning and diseases spreading because the user is alerted to problems such as drainage issues and turf stress.
One of the biggest benefits of soil monitoring systems is they prevent over watering - an inefficient use of water that inhibits root growth and is detrimental to overall plant well-being. Under watering is also avoided as dry areas can be detected long before the turf is impacted. Thanks to the important information recorded by a soil monitoring system, no more or less than the right amount of water is applied, meaning you have even more control over water consumption and sward health.
If you don't already benefit from a soil monitoring system, I'd recommend investing in a wireless network. The installation of sensors is quick and easy and they can be placed anywhere. Should you ever want to change the position of one, it is a simple job without the requirement to wrestle with wires or dig deep trenches. This means sensors can be installed or moved with minimal disturbance to play and, once in the ground, players won't even notice them.
Home of Leeds Rhinos rugby club and Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Headingley Carnegie Stadium was one of the first sports stadiums to invest in an intuitive control system. Theirs is coupled with wireless soil sensors, informing the groundsmen of what's going on beneath the surface of the turf, so timely, educated decisions can be made regarding irrigation schedule adjustments.
Headingley Carnegie Stadium's head groundsman, Ryan Golding, attests to the benefits of this combination, saying it has had "a big impact on how much water we use and on the club's bottom line. Water off the mains is not cheap and it's sensible not only for the environment, but also our budget to use the resource effectively. We're making big savings and it's improving grass-growing conditions, too."
The type of sprinkler used can also make a huge difference to responsible water usage. Like any other aspect of irrigation technology, sprinklers have evolved too. By using modern sprinklers that have nozzle options and adjustment capabilities, water can be applied exactly where it is needed. You'd be surprised by how much updating old sprinklers to new can contribute to water use reduction and improve turf condition. Even just replacing ageing heads can have surprising results.
3) PERFORM REGULAR MAINTENANCE
Another simple way that water can be saved is by routinely maintaining sprinklers. Checking that controller data matches sprinkler setup in the field can make a huge difference to the accuracy of an irrigation system. It sounds obvious, but I've seen countless systems that are not properly synced up to sprinklers. Also, inspecting arcs to ensure application area is correct will guarantee that water is distributed exactly where it is intended to go.
These two small additions to your regular maintenance schedule will go some way towards saving all-important water.
Know-how, assisted by innovative technology, scheduled system checks, frequent and thorough irrigation maintenance routines, all add up to more control over water usage. And, of course, the advantages of using water more efficiently are great: it is more environmentally friendly, plants are healthier, surfaces are more aesthetically pleasing, playability is improved, and it will likely save a lot of money too!
As you can see, applying just the right amount of water is a no-brainer. Every drop counts, and every drop saved benefits you, the players, visitors and the environment."
For a chat about your own irrigation system needs, contact Robert or one of his team members on 01480 226948.