Smart Irrigation Controllers

SMART CONTROLLERS What is a Smart Controller? Smart controllers automatically adjust watering based on daily weather data or soil moisture sensors. This helps plants receive appropriate amounts and frequency of watering. Some Smart controllers are known as, “ET” controllers.

What is Evapotranspiration? Evapotranspiration (ET) is the water lost from the soil through Evaporation and water used by plants, Transpiration. ET varies daily and by location. Four factors are used to measure ET: temperature, wind, solar radiation, and humidity.

How do the controllers get their daily information? Controller adjustments are based on data from some source, such as:

1. On-site sensor(s): Some controllers collect many, if not all, of the ET factors from mini “weather stations” installed in the landscape. This information is transferred to the controller daily.

2. Signal service: These controllers receive daily customized ET data via satellite or cellular service, gathered from a “network” of weather stations and then modified for a site’s unique location. Many of these controllers allow remote internet access for more effective water management.

3. Radio wave or the internet: These controllers access a free broadcast from a local state maintained weather station. 4. Moisture sensors: Sub surface sensors are placed in the root zone of representative areas in the landscape. As soil moisture reaches an optimum level, the sensor interrupts the controller’s electrical signal to prevent watering until dry.

There are pros and cons to each method:

1. Controllers that download thru satellite or cellular technology, or allow two way internet management of controller, have annual subscription fees, ranging from $100 to $300 per controller. Multiple year discounts may be available.

2. Sites with unique weather conditions or out of signal service range may require on-site sensors.

3. Controllers using on-site sensors have no subscription fees, but sensors may need to be maintained or replaced.

4. Some controllers are not true “ET” controllers, only modifying user created programming. Some only modify run time but not frequency. Why are “Smart” controllers important? Historically it has been less expensive to pay for extra water than to pay for the labor required to physically adjust each controller every time the weather changes. The compromise has been to only change the controllers when there have been major shifts in weather. This does not account for the majority of the water savings potential that can achieved with the micro adjustments on a daily basis. Since these controllers provide water savings without the additional labor required, they are a logical solution. In many cases the return on investment is 1-5 years, depending on historical water use on site, cost of water, and rate increases. Appropriate watering can also help reduce costs associated with replacing damaged property. What other features do Smart controllers have? Flow Sensing Use of a flow sensor can detect flow rates that exceed normal and, when combined with a master valve, the controller can shut down events such catastrophic pipe breaks or stuck irrigation valves to help reduce damage. Many also will provide a text or email alerts. Some controllers collect flow data to help manage water use. Flow sensing may be a challenge on sites where multiple controllers share a single water source or vise versa. Scheduling Engine Few people know how to accurately program standard controllers to provide the right amount of water and avoid overwatering and run off. Controllers that require entering each station’s unique characteristics, such as plant material and root depth, irrigation type and efficiency, soil types and slopes, and sun exposure can use these variables to create the appropriate programming. Central Control More sophisticated controllers can be networked together to allow for a single point of control, either on a single site or several sites, for quicker response to anticipated events such as rain. For single sites, controllers can share ET data and coordinate programming between field controllers to water within limited time constraints. What else should be considered when deciding on a Smart Controller? Existing irrigation coverage Smart controllers do not know the condition of the site’s irrigation system. Poor coverage can become apparent when hot spots develop where prior flood irrigated to compensate for poor coverage. While Smart controllers can be compensate for poorer coverage, even modest improvements in coverage will help get the most benefit out of the controller, not to mention savings. Water Use It takes the right amount of water to keep plants healthy. Calculations can be done to determine what that amount is. When sites water dramatically below that amount, it is known as “deficit watering” and plants appear stunted or starving for water. Installing and programming a smart controller may cause water use to go up; however, not replacing dead plant material makes it a good investment. Fine tuning and troubleshooting When a smart controller is installed, proper programming and fine tuning is critical to its success. Adjustments of each station’s unique characteristics, placement of sensors, and compensating for irrigation coverage all can impact the results. In some cases, when these steps are not taken, the tendency is to override the controller and enter traditional programming.

California falling short of water conservation goals; eye possible ways to reach consumers | f news

SAN FRANCISCO –  The three-year drought gripping California has shrunk reservoirs, rivers, creeks and snowpacks while leaving Californians drawing heavily on underground aquifers to water everything from lawns to crops.Farmers account for about 80 percent of water used in the state, but Gov. Jerry Brown has asked California households to save water as well. Here’s a look at how it’s going and what the problems are.Q: How are Californians doing when it comes to meeting the state’s goal for reducing water use?A: Not as well as hoped. Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared a drought emergency, and asked Californians to cut residential water use by 20 percent. The latest figures released Tuesday by the state show that Californians managed to reduce their daily water use by only 6.7 percent in October compared to the same period last year. The closest the state’s 38 million people have come to meeting the 20 percent goal was in August, when water use was down 11.6 percent year-on-year. Still, the state Water Resources Control Board said Tuesday that Californians have saved 90 billion gallons since June — enough water for 1.2 million people for a year.Q: Why are Californians falling so short?A: Water board officials said they’re trying to figure out if the usage was caused by a lack of awareness about the drought; not enough enforcement of conservation guidelines; this year’s hotter weather; or something else. Board members threw out ideas Tuesday ranging from asking the state Transportation Department to post stronger messages about the drought on flashing highway advisory signs, to looking at whether more penalties should be imposed on big water users.Water board officials say some of the key problem areas are affluent communities in Southern California, where rainfall is always short but residents love their green lawns, golf courses and swimming pools. Californians in the south coast region managed to cut water consumption by only 1.4 percent in October, the weakest showing in the state.Q: It’s raining in California now, so why still worry about saving water?A: California officials say the state would need 150 percent of its normal annual rainfall to recover from drought. As of this autumn, the state had marked its driest three years on record, the federal government’s National Climactic Data Center said. Storms so far this rainy season have brought parts of the state closer to normal rainfall for this point in the year. But the most important reservoirs contain just 39 percent to 60 percent of normal water levels. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, one of the most critical sources for state water year-round, is also lagging. Before the Tuesday storms, the southern Sierra had gotten just 47 percent of its normal rain and snow so far, and the northern Sierra 79 percent.Q: How hard is the drought hitting California?A: Poorer, rural communities in the agricultural Central Valley are feeling some of the sharpest impacts. Hundreds of wells have gone dry as water tables recede, leaving families to rely on trucked-in water or even water collected for them by Girl Scouts. Some farmers say they’ve had to spend thousands of dollars more to dig deeper well or buy water, and some have seen almond and pistachio trees or other orchards shrivel. The drought has been hard on wildlife as well. State and federal officials last month, for example, said low water in creeks meant one kind of coho salmon in Northern California was apparently unable to breed at all this year. The officials had to move all year-old cohos in that creek to a hatchery to try to save the species.

Source: California falling short of water conservation goals; eye possible ways to reach consumers | Fox News

How Well Does Cleary Bros. Compete in Terms of Price?

crew at work collage

We provide premium service that is an outstanding value. Most landscape companies that offer low-priced services may end up costing more in a surprisingly short amount of time. Deferred maintenance and unresolved issues can add up quickly by year’s end.  With Cleary Bros. you get more for your landscape dollar.  We’re a full-service company and we have the right equipment to get the job done right the first time. Our highly-trained staff fix nuisance problems before they become major headaches.  We take a holistic approach to landscape management that we call Integrated Landscape Management. To us the whole of your property is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Let us show you why “Service from the Ground Up” is more than just our motto; at Cleary Bros. it’s our way of life.

EBMUD current water restrictions

As of April 2015, here are EBMUD’s water use restrictions.

  • Strict limits on frequency: no more than two non-consecutive days per week with no runoff.
  • Strict limits on times: only before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m.
  • No watering allowed within 48 hours of measurable rainfall.
  • No watering of ornamental turf on public street medians allowed.
  • No washing of driveways and sidewalks; except as needed for health and safety.
  • Use only hoses with shutoff nozzles to wash vehicles.
  • Turn off fountains or decorative water features unless the water is recirculated.


June 9, EBMUD will very likely revise the pricing to account for the anticipated reduction in their sales volume.  These new rates will go into effect July 1 2015

TURF TIPS by Dave Fagundes with Crop Production Services

It looks like mandatory 25% reduction in water this year by the state and more in some areas. When trying to save water in turf aeration or dethatching turf is probably the most important thing we could do. Thatch is hydrophobic and prevents water from moving down into root areas. If the roots are growing in thatch layer then turf will struggle. Aeration should be done in spring and fall on cool season turf and not the summer time. Roots during late June through July stop growing and aeration  puts added stress on the turf. Crowns start to recover in August. Good fertilization programs in spring and fall will help in deeper root development. Mowing height is important in a strong root system. Too short or too long causes short root systems, low density  and  open to weed invasion.  Blue/rye and fescues should be mowed at  3” If going to fertilize use a slow release fertilizer to reduce fast growth and stress on turf. SIFI is an 18 week fertilizer which slows down growth yet color seems to be good. If irrigation is restricted the fertilizer shuts down and stays intact without nitrogen loss. The reduction in top growth will also be helpful in water loss and less frequent mowing. Use of wetting agents or polymers can help but costs can outweigh the benefits. Wetting agents are great for high value turf such as golf greens or sports fields. Sound cultural practices and fertilization along with weed control seem to be the most practical solution. Organic fertilizers add organic matter to soil over time and can increase water holding capacity significantly.

Dave is our guest blogger today and a friend of Cleary Bros.  He can be reached at More tips can be found at Crop Production Services