WEATHER-WISE DWP STUDYING HIGH-TECH SPRINKLERS.
Sprinklers spraying in the rain is one of the most frustrating sights in water-parched Los Angeles.
That and the ever-increasing strain on drinking water supplies prompted the Department of Water and Power to allocate $160,000 to experiment with technology that could lessen waste by letting the weather dictate irrigation.
Hot day? The sprinklers will run longer. Overcast? They'll run a little less. Rain? The equipment won't even turn on.
Some 15 homeowners associations, apartment complexes and sprawling office parks in the west San Fernando Valley are the first to test the technology in a one-year pilot project. The Valley's heat and large, landscaped subdivisions make it the ideal proving ground.
Residents can use as much as 70 percent of their water to keep grass and shrubs green, much of it overflowing into streets or soaking already-wet sod. DWP officials hope the weather-sensitive technology can eventually be installed on lawns through the city to curb overwatering and run-off.
``You're using potable water, drinking water to irrigate this,'' said Robert Estrada, looking at the grass and shrubbery in one gated community in Porter Ranch. ``These days there isn't enough drinking water to go around.
``If you can conserve by watering to the weather, that's more water for the rest of us.''
So far the DWP is seeing fewer gallons lost to landscaping on the pilot properties, despite this being one of the driest years on record.
Luis Ponce, a landscaper tending the View Ridge Townhouses in Porter Ranch, said the smart sprinkler system has reduced runoff and the development is using about 20 percent less water for its grass since being installed six months ago.
``We used to have a lot more water running down the street each day,'' Ponce said.
The developments are using the same sprinklers they've always used. The difference is the shoe box-size controllers that either replace or attach to the existing timers used for large-scale irrigation systems.
The controllers use wireless technology, akin to that used by pagers or Internet-capable mobile phones, to receive irrigation directions based on weather forecasts. The information is updated daily and is site-specific, with soaking tailored to grass, shrubs or flowers.
Water2Save and WeatherTrak, the two companies contracted by the DWP, take National Weather Service data and basically page or send e-mails to the controllers, which then direct sprinklers to water more or less depending on the climate that day.
``Landscapers typically don't have time to go around and adjust all the controllers'' based on the weather, said Gary Gelinas, president of Solano Beach-based Water2Save. ``We felt that if we could do that automatically we would use water more efficiently.''
The Irvine Ranch Water District is also experimenting with weather- sensitive sprinkler systems and installed controllers at 40 homes. Water conservation horticulturist Tom Ash said consumption dropped by 17 percent and runoff was cut in half. More importantly, 97 percent of residents with the systems said their lawns looked as good or better than before, he said.
The technology is increasingly being used by large homeowners associations and businesses with lots of landscaping and big water bills. At roughly $100 per month per controller for the Water2Save plan or roughly $200 per controller box under the WeatherTrak system,the smart sprinklers aren't realistic yet for most single-family homes.
The DWP hopes to expand its project next year by offering the weather- sensitive sprinklers to homeowners, Estrada said. The city agency ultimately could add the equipment to its water conservation rebate program.
(1) View Ridge Townhouses landscaper Luis Ponce makes an adjustment to a sprinkler head on one of the complex's sprinkler systems run by remote control as part of a Department of Water and Power test program.
(2) DWP conservation specialist Robert Estrada shows off a new WeatherTrax irrigation-control unit that regulates sprinkler systems by remote control.
Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer