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Inside Irrigation

Jim Barrett, president, American Society of Irrigation Consultants

Jim Barrett

Over the past 20 years, landscape irrigation has evolved from a luxury to a necessity and for many good reasons. During this time, every region of the United States has had to learn the harsh realities of drought conditions. As a result, the more progressive state agencies and water districts are doing as much as possible to plan for the inevitable, and doing so requires the input of irrigation professionals. Owners and operators of virtually any facility that must maintain its grounds seek solutions to preserve turf aesthetics and performance in the face of unforeseen but routine challenges that Mother Nature brings our way. And as residential water use restrictions become increasingly common, the public at large is realizing that water is not to be taken for granted.

Demand Drivers

Fueled by this growing appreciation among more water-smart end users, irrigation design has progressed from being an extension of the sales department of a manufacturer or distributor to the technical discipline that it is today. Advancements in everything from nozzles and plastics and sensors to computerized automated control systems, water treatment and subsurface drip technologies are contributing to the demand for professionally designed and managed irrigation and water management systems.

Also driving the growth of our industry and our association is the greater realization among end users of the escalating costs of water usage and the need to find alternative water resources to combat drought and shrinking supplies. Remember, there's a finite amount of water on this earth. Growing demand requires that water be used and managed as efficiently as possible. Huge inefficiencies and waste result from poorly designed and installed irrigation systems. Fact is, you will waste water without a professionally designed system. It's that simple.

Growth of Profession

The amount being spent on construction of irrigation systems produced by the professional members of ASIC exceeds more than $712 million, up more than 30 percent from five years ago. We can expect to reach the billion dollar level within a couple of years as needs rise in the many sectors served by ASIC professional members, including sports turf and golf, public works, and commercial and residential real estate development, among others. The non-profit group LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), formed to create standards for high performance buildings, has set new requirements for water efficient landscaping. This creates new opportunities for the professional irrigation consultant prepared to meet exacting standards.

Those of us who have devoted many years to this profession are especially gratified to see the growing body of industry knowledge and increasingly high standards governing our business. As customers' expectations rise, so must our capabilities. The exchange of ideas and interaction among ASIC members contributes to our collective efforts to raise the bar for performance. At the same time, irrigation is making its way into educational curriculums at the college level, which speaks to the profession's growing popularity, importance and sophistication. In some circles, we've been able to abolish the myth that irrigation systems waste water. If irrigation is wasting water, then it's because someone bought a bad design or doesn't know how to operate the system, or both. Independent professional irrigation consultants can prevent that from happening.

Today, the professional members of ASIC combine a broad and firm grasp of environmental and soil sciences. They are up to date with the changing regulations and requirements and offer total mastery of the irrigation equipment and technologies being produced by world-class manufacturers in our field. For example, the advancements in golf course irrigation, which is my focus, have been enormous. It's hard to believe, but just 15 years ago it was common to see four sprinklers on a green. And everything got the same amount of water (putting surface, approach and rough). New course designs and requirements and growing demands from course owners, investors and the players have resulted in the growth of sophisticated irrigation systems. They're tailored to meet the wide variety of turf and soil requirements that one encounters between the first tee and the 18th green, because the grass has to be healthy every step of the way.

Educating Influencers

Ironically, the growth and success of the industry have also created some of our most pressing challenges. In some states, there are efforts underway to prohibit irrigation consultants from practicing without a license. On one hand, we might have only ourselves to blame for this unfortunate development, because we haven't placed as much emphasis as we should have on educating legislators and regulators at every level about the very things that our customers know so well -- that irrigation is the solution not the problem. It requires a great deal of experience, skills and technical expertise to produce a quality irrigation solution that will conserve energy, water and money. We're not just talking hoses and sprinklers here, although that's the impression of people without exposure to our industry.

There's a chance we'll be penalized for this lack of understanding among key influencers who don't know what we do or the value we offer. Reaching out to these individuals--one on one if that's what it takes--and explaining who we are is a top priority for us as we head into the New Year. We're prepared to pursue licensing of irrigation consultants if that's what it takes. Based on legitimate criteria, licensing will only protect the end user, and we're all for that.

Thomas H. Kimmell, Executive Director, The Irrigation Association

Thomas H. Kimmell

The irrigation industry in turf/landscape rebounded nicely in 2003 from a sluggish start. The initial problems came from both coasts, as a wet spring hampered the East Coast while the west responded more slowly to the recovering economy.

Conservation practices, which were once a minor element in driving the irrigation markets, are now becoming mainstream as all sections of the country grapple with water shortages. New technologies that were viewed as interesting specialty items are gaining attention from both the industry and water suppliers under pressure to cut water demand. These products are being refined and cooperatively the irrigation industry on track to introduce the test protocols necessary for wide spread acceptance. The industry has, through the IA, published Landscape Best Management Practices to further assist all users in the correct methods of managing irrigation systems. The field is becoming more technical as manufacturers, distributors, designers and contractor are called upon to provide ever more efficient use of our water resources.

The year 2004 appears to be shaping up well for the irrigation industry. The indicators are solid for a good year as housing starts remain strong and commercial spending intensifies. The only dark clouds are those where spot water shortages cause local officials to react by cutting off the water supply. The irrigation industry is alerted to this problem and has the tools in place so that those affected can successfully educate their local officials.

The good news for the irrigation industry is that what was once viewed as a luxury is now the expected.

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June 18, 2019, 8:58 pm PDT

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