Volume 13, Number 1 July 8, 2005

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Irrigation system expected to save water & time

By Brian Cross

Keeping the grass green and the flowerbeds beautiful at the University of Saskatchewan can be a costly, time-consuming task, especially when you’ve got a front lawn that covers an area larger than 100 city blocks.

But a new irrigation control system being installed on campus this summer should make the job a lot simpler.

Murray Zook, U of S grounds manager, says the new central control irrigation system, designed by Toro, will reduce the time and manpower required to keep campus greens looking lush and healthy.

Grounds Manager Murray Zook
Grounds Manager Murray Zook

It will also mean a significant reduction in the amount of water used for grounds maintenance.

“It’s a state-of-the-art system,” said Zook.

He said the high-tech irrigation system will be installed in phases over the next three to five years, pending budgetary approval. Total cost is expected to be about $650,000.

The first phase, which should be operational within the next month or two, will include the installation and programming of 11 irrigation control systems located at various sites on campus.

The fully programmable control systems will be linked to a central control station that can monitor water flows at each satellite controller and can adjust watering times and flow rates automatically to compensate for weather conditions.

A solar-powered weather monitoring station at the central control station will measure variables such as temperature, evaporation and rainfall. Based on this information, automatic adjustments will ensure that each patch of turf and each flowerbed gets the optimal dosage of moisture, without being overwatered.

The system can also detect abnormal flow rates in satellite controllers and will automatically shut down sprinkler systems when flow rates exceed programmed levels.

In the event of a failure at central control, each satellite controller will have the ability to run independently of the central station.

The system also features a manual override function that allows authorized staff to control watering operations at satellite sites using a handheld radio.

The radio control feature eliminates the need for hard-wiring and retrofits.

The system can also minimize the number of hours that sprinkler systems run each day by gauging the maximum flow capacity and calculating a watering schedule that maximizes sprinkler output over the shortest possible time period.

Customized flow reports generated at the central control site will allow groundskeepers to monitor water usage more carefully and analyse water requirements in each area over different periods of time.

Six controllers have already been installed at various locations. Five more have been ordered and should be installed and programmed this summer.

Zook said it has yet to be determined how much water will be conserved under the new system.

But he said the main benefits of the central control system will be reduced labour requirements and more efficient water use.

Under the existing timer-controlled irrigation system, grounds staff must travel throughout campus and adjust watering functions manually to compensate for rainfall or abnormally dry conditions.

“It can take two-and-a-half hours to run around and manually shut down sprinklers when it rains,” Zook said.

“Then if it dries up right away, we have to run around and turn them all on again.”

Margret Asmuss, sustainability co-ordinator with the Facilities Management Division, said the new irrigation system is one example of a campus-wide initiative that will reduce the environmental impact of University operations.

“Facilities Management is really moving in a direction where we’re trying to evaluate everything we do in terms of increased sustainability and reducing the environmental footprint that we leave,” Asmuss said.

“The new irrigation system fits very well into that whole movement.”

According to Asmuss, building a more sustainable environment on campus will require greater education and the adoption of more environmentally friendly technologies, such as the automated irrigation system.

“We’re always trying to economize and figure out ways that we can maximize our resources,” Zook added.

“Water is a commodity that we sometimes take for granted, but we have to be conscious of our water use. There’s a limited supply, just like everything else.”

Brian Cross is a Saskatoon freelance writer.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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