As farmers, homeowners and property managers can testify, water is a costly, though vital, input for keeping land and soil healthy and productive.
It is water, of course, that delivers the nutrients from the soil to the plant and animal life it supports.
Neither crops nor pastures nor gardens nor lawns can long survive without this most basic necessity.
Unfortunately, we can not turn the rain on and off so we need to access available water sources…and must often do that at a price.
Keeping that price reasonable depends on how land owners manage their usage.
The following management tools have proved very effective.
How Irrigation Works
To irrigate means simply to water crops and plants using tools rather than waiting for nature to do so. On a macro scale, those tools can be aqueducts, channels and canals.
Closer to home, they often take the form of sprinklers or drip systems. Where climates deny farmers and growers adequate or regular precipitation, irrigation becomes all the more important.
Over the years they have alternated among flooding fields; routing water between crop rows; spraying water directly onto plants and grasses; and slowly applying water by means of perforated piping.
Fields and pastures differ according to geography so each of these methods has its place. Some, however, remain more expensive than others.
Trickle and Treat
Maybe the name gives it away but the drip irrigation systems are among the most economical ways to convey the right amount of water to your plants.
When water is applied too quickly, much of it can run off the soil surface – a costly waste of a precious resource.
At the same time, while a sprinkler can regulate the volume of water and speed of its treatment, moisture can still be squandered as evaporation can occur before moisture reaches the soil.
On the other hand, drip – or trickle – irrigation distributes water right where the roots are and at a rate that suits the flora and landscape.
In these systems, the water moves through bored tubes or tape at pressures between five and 15 pounds per square inch (PSI). These conduits are often laid between rows of crops on farms.
On lawns, they are frequently installed beneath the surface unless trees obstruct their paths. In any event, the holes in the pipes or tape are called emitters, and are spaced at regular intervals as the plantings dictate.
Through the emitters, water permeates the soil at a slow and easy tempo. Soil scientists estimate that 30 to 70 percent of water is conserved compared to sprinkling or hand-watering. There are other benefits, too.
- Because the water disbursement is concentrated, fewer weeds emerge.
- Plant leaves are less likely to grow fungi or contract disease since bacteria only thrives when they are wet.
- Water distribution is uniform throughout with drip systems; sprinkled water is sometimes shifted by wind.
- Soil composition remains intact because water is not falling on bare ground and causing erosion.
How Is PSI Determined?
You see that these systems can operate within a range from five to 15 PSI. So, you ask, are we just supposed to guess where we should fall within that range? It is a good question, with good answers to follow.
As a general rule, the width of the planted bed and the number of drip lines used will dictate what the flow rate of those lines – tape or tubing – should be. But simple calculations do not take other factors into account, the slope and structure of the soil for instance.
Monitoring the trickle is important for the health of the crops, plants and grass, as well as for the sake of your budget. The good news is that technology provides ways to do so.
Water flow meters help to manage water supplies and ward off waste.
At their most basic, these devices calculate flow by synching a small propeller to the drip line and counting the number of revolutions, much the way a speedometer relates to a car engine.
Flow is then measured in gallons or cubic feet relative to a specific measure of time. These instruments can also detect leaks in the drip lines.
News from the Underground
As important as knowing how much water you use is to know how much water you need.
Soil sensors measure the moisture present in the ground. Too much watering – in addition to being wasteful – moves nutrients away from roots which, in turn, can experience disrupted growth.
The sensors can perceive whether water is necessary and adjust flow rate accordingly.
Keeping Info Handy
Mobile apps are now available for regulating and adjusting irrigation systems wherever you are. If the weather turns, for example, and your property is due for a drenching, you can turn your system off from a remote location. Again, it reduces water usage to only what is absolutely necessary.
The Sky’s the Limit
New to the world of irrigation control are drones. These flying devices are equipped with thermal cameras that can spot leakage and estimate moisture levels in the soil.
Not yet cleared for commercial purposes, these machines are nevertheless expected to become commonplace on farms.
Sticking with the Tried and True
The positives of drip systems notwithstanding, they are a significant financial investment, especially for those already invested in a sprinkler system. For you intrepid sprinklers, you too can become more efficient in water expenditure.
A decent wifi sprinkler controller can maximize the savings and optimize the results of your irrigation design.
With a weather forecasting component, each controller adjusts the duration and intensity of sprinkling in conformity to present and upcoming conditions. Most are easily adaptable to smart devices.
Loss of precious water resources does not have to be an expected hazard of farming, gardening or landscaping. Several innovations are available to help you conserve and more will come online in the future.