Conserving Water with Weather-Based Irrigation

Pacific Landscape Management
Written by Jen Hocken

Landscaping contractor Pacific Landscape Management offers commercial management and maintenance services from three locations in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area. The company has grown consistently year-over-year since it was founded in 2001 and is now a leader in its region, having found a great deal of success through a commitment to building business relationships that last.

Water conservation and management have become the main area of attention for Pacific Landscape Management. The Portland metropolitan area is known for its rainy weather, though it surprisingly has a high demand for irrigation services. The reality is that for six months of the year, Oregon receives a substantial amount of rainfall, but during the summer months of July, August, and September, it is essentially rain-free.

“For about three months of the year, we are one of the driest areas of the country, and all landscapes require irrigation or else they’re not going to look very nice, so all of the properties that we manage are irrigated,” said Bob Grover, President of Pacific Landscape Management.

The other reason that water conservation has become more necessary in recent years is that even though Oregon has plenty of water throughout the year to fill up its water reservoir sources, the water rates are higher than in most other areas of the country.

“Even though it seems like it should be easier to get water in Oregon and store water in Oregon, our water is very expensive and became more expensive over the last number of years. One of the things pushing our water conservation efforts is that most of our customers’ water rates have doubled in the past five years and are expected to double again in the next five years,” states Grover. Water is the most rapidly-growing utility cost for properties in the Portland Metropolitan Area.

Pacific Landscape Management has identified a number of modifications that can be made to landscapes to help mitigate the problem. “We’re trying to take a very holistic view of this, and we tell our customers that maybe the best thing is not necessarily to modify your irrigation system; sometimes the best thing is to modify your landscape,” suggests Grover.

After a landscape is installed, it changes over time as the environment changes. Lawns are the least expensive component to install; it only requires is sprinkling some grass seed on the ground, and you have a lawn. However, in the long run, it is the most expensive piece of landscape to maintain, particularly when it comes to irrigation.

Shrubs and ground cover become more drought-tolerant as they mature, whereas a lawn never does, no matter how much time goes by. In fact, the older a lawn becomes, the more difficult is becomes to irrigate due to soil compaction and competition with tree roots.

Lawns are often difficult to irrigate when they are competing with nearby tree roots. When located between the road and the sidewalk or on a parking island, the lawn must struggle against the radiant heat from the curb and sidewalk surrounding it. In these instances, it is almost impossible to keep the entire lawn green in the heat of the summer as the area starts to develop brown spots and the turf thins out.

“If you put in a groundcover that’s drought-tolerant, or even rock, which we are trying to promote in a lot of places because rock doesn’t need any water at all, you can create an environment that looks nicer and requires less water. The drying out lawn that is struggling with the competition with roots and the surrounding concrete just doesn’t look good,” said Grover. As landscapes age, they need to be updated to be more drought-tolerant and visually appealing at the same time.

Pacific Landscape Management has been involved in weather-based irrigation for the last decade. The technology has come a long way, and it is now cost-effective and available for any type of project. Grover described the summer in Oregon as having varying temperatures throughout the day with occasional rain, so water needs change significantly from day to day.

With a typical manually-programmed controller, people tend to program the irrigation system to provide extra water during the hot, dry days. So on the cooler days, the landscape is often being overwatered. Weather-based irrigation is much more efficient because it adjusts the water program every day based on the needs of the landscape.

SmartLink was created by Weathermatic, a leading provider of water conservation technology, and Pacific Landscape Management partners with Weathermatic to provide SmartLink to its customers.

Weathermatic Executive Vice President Brodie Bruner described the benefits of the partnership. “PLM is a leader in water management and uses the latest in cloud-based, smart technology. Their technicians are all factory-trained and SmartLink-certified to deliver optimum results. PLM offers a unique subscription model for their services that allows customers to benefit with no cash out of pocket. With water rates rising and landscape being a valuable property asset, PLM is leading the pack!”

The monthly subscription-based model for SmartLink allows customers to upgrade their systems without having to spend capital. It is a much easier sell for Pacific Landscape Management because there is usually an immediate return on investment in savings.

When using a weather-based irrigation system that uses only the amount of water the landscape requires, it becomes more clear which areas are not getting uniform coverage. “If ninety percent of the lawn has good coverage and ten percent doesn’t, well as you reduce the irrigation. You start to expose the areas that don’t have good coverage or have those tree-related competitions. We’re finding that the weather-based irrigation is showing us when we need to modify the irrigation system or the landscaping,” explains Grover.

Pacific Landscape Management’s water conservation department offers a water conservation evaluation. The new service is used to help its customers see where improvements can be made and what options are available to improve water conservation.

The water conservation evaluation is not an official audit of any kind. It is an elaborate evaluation of each zone of the landscape and the irrigation system to identify the challenge areas and so the best solutions may be determined.

“There might be a dozen or more different solutions, and as we go out and do these evaluations on sites, we’re able to give them recommendations on the best methodology of modifying the landscape and irrigation to have the greatest value, the lowest cost, the greatest water savings, and the greatest improvement of the look of the landscape at the same time,” said Grover.

Sometimes, the best option is to update the irrigation system to ensure it is providing water consistently, as needed. For example, if a growing hedgerow or plant has started to block water access to part of the landscape, drip irrigation can be installed to enhance coverage.

As users begin watering more appropriately and finding flaws, the best way to conserve water is to update the landscape with lawn alternatives to improve the long-term health of the landscape, rather than modifying the irrigation system to provide additional water. Converting lawns into rock beds, shrubs, or ground cover is especially favorable for areas along roads or surrounding trees. “Big, wide-open berms are a really good place for a lawn, but really tight areas especially in and around sidewalks, roadways, and curbs are very difficult to water, and those are the areas we want to eliminate,” Grover reiterated.

The primary goal of the water conservation department at Pacific Landscape Management is to have all clients adopt weather-based irrigation and approve a water conservation evaluation. According to the EPA, roughly seventy percent of the water use on a commercial property is from the irrigation system maintaining the exterior property, and much of that water is wasted. Pacific Landscape Management is using its experience to conserve water by advising its customers to make upgrades that will also help to reduce operational costs and improve the landscape’s appearance.



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