A Smart Irrigation Upgrade
Park West Installs Smart Irrigation at Crystal Cove


A high-end residential community on the coast of Southern California, Crystal Cove was in need of an update to their irrigation system. Some parts of the 500-acre common area were being completely under-watered, while others were left completely underwater. Park West Companies, a leading provider of landscape construction, landscape management and tree care services, conducted a full irrigation analysis before replacing the existing system with a smart irrigation system.


In addition to turf areas, Crystal Cove's 3,674 acres include many trees, shrubs and flowers. With the smart irrigation system, which consists of 167 controllers, each area had to be programmed to irrigate appropriately for the plant material.

Crystal Cove is a 3,674-acre residential community located on the coast of Orange County, California. Park West, a leading provider of landscape construction, landscape management and tree care services, recently completed a smart irrigation installation at the luxury community.

"Originally, we looked at upgrading the existing equipment. But when we evaluated its general capabilities and what that would have cost, we determined that installing a new system was a better fit for the community overall," said Danny Smith, director of water management at Park West.

Contributing Factors
The existing irrigation controllers were based on analog phone lines and hardwire communication. Smith noted, "What we found was that the communications were essentially not working." A multitude of factors contributed to this - ground squirrels and gophers chewing through the wires as well as the construction of new home phases over the years. The irrigation team at Park West conducted a full analysis of the existing system.

"There were several areas that were in penalty" for the amount of water being used, said Smith. They also found that there were areas being under-watered. They checked each point of connection, basket strainer, master valve and flow sensor and if they did not look like they would be functional within three years, they were either flagged for service or replaced completely.

A Right Resolution
Besides turf, the common landscaped areas in Crystal Cove include birds of paradise, star jasmine, agave and others. With different water requirements, managing the irrigation system to meet all needs is paramount to the health of the landscape.

They found the best way to obtain that was through smart irrigation with controllers that monitor weather and soil conditions to automatically adjust landscape watering needs. Park West chose WeatherTRAK larger capacity controllers, supporting 72 and 96 stations, and reduced the number of them from 267 to 167.

Each individual controller has a cellular modem, allowing them to work independently. If one is taken off the grid, the others continue to irrigate appropriately.

"They all receive specific weather data within one square kilometer of an area," explained Smith. "We can have our controllers receive different ET values just by being far enough away from each other."


After the upgrade to the weather-based smart system, the landscape at Crystal Cove has been irrigated more appropriately and more efficiently. As a result, the community received approximately $350,000 in rebates through SoCal Water$mart, a program operated by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to encourage residents to save water.


The system pulls weather data from an area of one kilometer and programs the irrigation schedule appropriately. Each controller has its own cellular modem, so if one is taken offline, the others are not affected. And each controller can be programmed on its own, but there are also three different groups that can be controlled as one unit. By classifying the controllers into groups, they can be shut off in a specified area to be more water efficient.

The controllers receive evapotranspiration (ET) data on a daily basis and adjust programming based on that information as well as manually entered user data.

For areas of the property that were being under-watered, Park West put together an initial program that watered based on the original design. "Then every few months, we reduced the irrigation frequency while maintaining proper soil moisture to train the plants to develop a longer root system," said Smith.

Each different area of landscape was programmed based on the irrigation method, the precipitation rate of that method, and runoff.

The new irrigation system can be controlled either from an app or from the manufacturer's website. "The webpage allows us to have all functionality," said Smith. "The app allows us to review alerts, manually irrigate, turn controllers on and off, and pause for rain."

The controllers were divided into three groups. By grouping them, they can be managed more efficiently. "For example, in less than 30 seconds we can turn off 75 controllers in a certain area without turning off any other controllers throughout the property," explained Smith.

"From an environmental standpoint, with Crystal Cove so close to the coastline, the project's design allows us to better manage potential large-equipment issues like mainline breaks or stuck valves and thereby mitigate the amount of waste water that would otherwise end up in our ocean," he noted.

The Outcome
"We have been able to irrigate more effectively," said Smith of the results of the installation, which was completed in August 2017. And the controllers have built-in volt meters that continually check the irrigation circuits to make sure they are operational. As ground squirrels and gophers have a tendency to shut down circuits, the system will alert the irrigators if this happens.

"Our two-year analysis found that the property was being under-irrigated with regard to what is horticulturally correct," he said. "With this information and past water bills, we put together a program to irrigate to the needs of the plant material. It has all made the overall irrigation operations much more efficient.

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, July 2018.

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October 18, 2019, 12:14 am GMT

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