Smart Water Application Technologies
Brings Residential Irrigation into the 21st Century
People like their landscapes!
Gardening is the number one rated hobby in the United States. In 2002, Americans spent $68.5 billion improving their home's landscapes. Eight out of every ten households participate in outdoor lawn or garden activities - 85 million households.
Landscapes need water. In 2002, 54 million households purchased some type of watering equipment to the tune of $3.5 billion dollars. Most urban irrigation is connected to the potable water supply system. Outdoor watering accounts, on average, for 32% of the water used by households nationwide. In summer the average household outdoor water use can go as high as 70%.
Challenge: Maintain the landscape with less water
The Government Accounting Office released a study in July 2003 that stated 36 of the 50 states are actively seeking ways to avert water shortages expected during the next 10 years. The public's desire for attractive landscapes that use less water, puts both water suppliers and the irrigation industry in the crosshairs of change. Water suppliers don't want to tell their customers that the landscape they like must go ... or go brown. And the irrigation and green industries are out of business if water is shut-off.
It is against this shadow of change that some water purveyors and the Irrigation Association have come together to encourage change rather than avoid it. A little background is necessary here. Most water supply agencies have recognized that conservation efforts can pay dividends by stretching their water supplies and creating less need for new infrastructure. Indoor conservation solutions aimed at individual fixtures like toilets and shower heads provided an early, straight forward approach.
Outdoor watering is a more complicated problem. It's easy to identify large commercial high water users in landscape and educate them. However, the large gains in conservation come from the residential sector with in-ground irrigation systems, at least in the west. This target area is tough because all systems are different: different designers, different equipment, different installers, and most perplexing, different operators and standards of maintenance.
Joining forces, pooling resources
Irrigation manufacturers have focused on delivering water conserving products, including matched precipitation nozzles, flow controlled nozzles, rain shut-off sensors, controllers with water budgets, multiple start timers, multiple zone drip programs and high flow shut-offs. The Irrigation Association developed landscape water audits, Turf/Landscape Irrigation Best Management Practices, drought handbooks, conservation inspired education courses, and certification criteria for designers and contractors.
The water supply agencies and the irrigation industry were working toward the same goal, independent of each other. It took a new idea to inspire both industries to forego their "go it alone" mode to "why not do it together!" That idea was SWAT or Smart Water Application Technologies, though the acronym was born later.
Technologies were being developed by as many as 20 different irrigation companies that could make residential irrigation controllers "smart." Instead of turning on the irrigation system using a clock, "smart" controllers operate by measuring the evapotranspiration rate of the plants, or the amount of moisture in the soil. Primarily in the west, water purveyors were interested in getting these "smart" controllers into the market and even planned to offer incentives to homeowners who adopted the new technology.
However, past experience and native intelligence told these water agency pioneers that, like the original pioneers, they might end up with arrows in their backs if they moved too fast. The new "smart" controllers all used different techniques to start and stop the irrigation cycles. There were lots of claims, but little evidence. Most of the companies offering a "smart" controller were start-ups. Some needed a communication network to operate. Some used information that was too broad. Some had too narrow a focus. All sounded exciting, yet none had a track record.
Historic meeting launches SWAT
Doug Bennett, Conservation Manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority approached the Irrigation Association concerning the dilemma faced by the water purveyors. They wanted to see the "smart" technologies used, but were fearful of the potential consequences of the new technology. The timing was perfect as the Irrigation Association had also been working on various conservation initiatives.
IA agreed to host and facilitate a meeting at its International Irrigation Show held in New Orleans, October 2002. The meeting was to determine the interest on both sides concerning "smart" controllers. Ten water agencies and ten irrigation manufacturers were invited to participate in a panel discussion - the first joint meeting of our industries.
First Meeting: Water Purveyor and Irrigation Industry Panel
|Water Supply Agencies
|Arizona Municipal Water Users Association
|East Bay Municipal Utility District
|Eugene Water & Electric Board
||L R Nelson
|Lower Colorado River Authority
|Metropolitan Water District
|Seattle Public Utilities
|Southern Nevada Water Authority
|Tampa Bay Water
|Utah Division of Water Resources
This meeting, also attended by 150 spectators, confirmed the original premise that indeed "smart" controllers had the interest of both groups. A subsequent meeting in Fresno, CA. got down to the basics of defining the work. Two clear objectives were formulated and sub-committees were created from both groups. Areas targeted were Test Protocols and Marketplace Transformation.
Objective: develop test protocols
Research on how the test protocols should be developed was accepted by the Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT) at CSU-Fresno. The objective was to establish performance standards that would evaluate "smart" controller performance, longevity, reliability and comparative information. CIT proceeded to create protocols for both climate based controllers and soil moisture sensors and send them through three rounds of peer review before the first unit was tested. Beta tests began in April 2004.
Objective: prepare the market
The Marketplace Transformation subcommittee, chaired by Jill Hoyenga, Eugene Water and Electric Board, is working to ensure that the products developed will be accepted by consumers, which meant changing old habits and perceptions. Their first order of business was to raise funds within the group to hire a research firm that could conduct focus groups and develop a market transformation plan. The funds were successfully raised. The transformation plan was created during the summer and fall of 2003 and presented at the meeting held during the IA-sponsored International Irrigation Show in San Diego, November, 2003.
The next steps
Product testing, using the protocols, is proceeding with the final revisions and modifications being made to the procedures. A data bank of completed tests is expected by the summer of 2005.
Implementation of market transformation now depends on the activity being sufficiently funded to gain acceptance. Funds are being raised from the water purveyors and the irrigation industry, who will both directly benefit if new controller technologies are adopted. Grants have been sought from the Department of Interior's Water 2025 program.
The SWAT Market Transformation Plan
Focus on efficient landscape irrigation as a local (not national) issue.
Build grassroots support for efficient landscape irrigation efforts.
Align efforts with key garden media.
Define and differentiate the focus types of "smart" controllers options.
Focus on the most common barriers to acceptance and/or advantages of installation (based on results from the research) to maximize impact.
Combine social marketing with category marketing to present a more complete and compelling message.
Maintain a consistent messaging platform and "Brand" focused specifically on efficient irrigation throughout all communication.
Use incentives to motivate the end-user to take action.
Test impact of incremental marketing spending on awareness and acceptance of "smart" irrigation technologies.
Differentiate the "smart" controller from the rest of the irrigation system.
Just how important is water conservation?
The Environmental Protection Agency, in a parallel effort, is developing a product labeling program to help consumers identify efficient water-use products. The program is being modeled after the popular "Energy Star" program. In a stakeholder meeting held by the EPA about outdoor watering, the SWAT program was recognized as an idea that is far ahead of any other. Smart controllers are likely to be included in the outdoor residential category.
SWAT: It's a Win-Win program
SWAT offers something for everyone:
The homeowner continues to enjoy and maintain a healthy landscape, conserve water and save money.
The landscape irrigation industry insures its future with a conservation tool that creates a market for an estimated 10,000,000 "smart" controllers.
The water supplier stretches their supplies and balances peak demand by embracing a tool that also results in greater customer satisfaction.
Cooperation between the water supply industry and the irrigation Industry has resulted in very real gains for water conservation in residential landscapes. This cooperation promises to change the way Americans water their landscapes.