Irrigation system at U of U uses weather data to conserve water supply

Posted at 9:57 PM, Aug 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-15 23:57:47-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The average homeowner with a sprinkler system probably has one clock and maybe 10 to 15 watering stations on perhaps an eighth of an acre or less.

Grounds crews at the University of Utah obviously have a lot more space, and thus water, to work with--but they are takings steps to conserve that precious resource.

With more than 200 irrigated acres, the University of Utah’s system has 172 clocks, which control more than 2,600 irrigation stations.

"We have everything from drip, that's just running low flow for small shrub beds, all the way up to our athletic fields, you know, soccer fields we're pushing really big rotors that are throwing 50, 60 feet,” said John Walker, an irrigation technology specialist at U of U.

But a watering system called "Maxicom" uses data gathered by a weather station, which is sent to a network of cluster control units.

"The weather station collects all its data at 5 o'clock and then modifies all the programs for the run-time according to what the weather station collected,” Walker said. “That data is sent out to the cluster control units, which is sent out to the irrigation clocks every night at 5:30."

Maxicom takes weather data--like temperature, humidity, solar radiation, wind and rainfall--and translates it into what's called evapo-transpiration, which is all the water lost by either evaporation or absorption.

The system also includes rain station catch cans. If they sense 3/10ths of an inch of rain or more, the system will shut down to conserve water.

“It'll wait until the rain finishes, and then as the rain finishes then it will come back on and continue its irrigation cycle so we're not watering while it’s raining,” Walker said.

Crews water the turf three to four times a week, and newly installed shrub beds are watered two to three times each week. Older shrub beds get watered once a week or less.

"We're using about 150, 175 million gallons of water a year,” Walker said.

That sounds like a lot of water, but, relatively speaking, Walker said the U of U actually puts fewer inches of water on its grass than the average homeowner.

If Maxicom and the other systems fail, and you see a malfunctioning sprinkler on the U of U campus, you can report it via social media using the hashtag #roguesprinkler.