Smart controllers are likely to be among the first irrigation products to get water-efficient labels from a proposed water conservation awareness program, says Tom Kimmell, executive director of the Irrigation Association.
Kimmell attended an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stakeholder meeting to help shape a voluntary program to label products aimed at increased water efficiency. The proposed program would be similar to the EPA's "Energy Star" program for labeling energy-efficient products.
"Water Star" seems to be the preferred name for the water-product labeling program, although it is not officially decided, Kimmell said.
The meeting in Phoenix was to gather information about outdoor watering for the labeling program as it relates to urban landscape and irrigation products, Kimmell said.
"I think the consensus of opinion was that labeling of irrigation and water-efficient products is something that can be done," Kimmell said. "Labeling irrigation products can be difficult because the efficiency of irrigation systems isn't just dependent on products. It requires proper design, installation, maintenance and operation."
Nationwide certification of contractors could become part of the program to help consumers know which contractors are qualified to design and install efficient systems, Kimmell said.
The initial labeling initiative for outdoor watering is likely to include passive or "smart" controllers because the Irrigation Association and water purveyors have already been working on Smart Water Application Technology, known as SWAT.
SWAT promotes "smart" irrigation systems that use sensors or actual weather data to control watering rather than time-based systems, which tend to waste water. Smart controllers generally use either evaporation/transpiration or soil moisture to schedule irrigation applications.
Evaporation/transpiration controllers use weather data and information about the plants and local conditions to determine how fast plants lose water and when they need watering.
By preventing overwatering, smart systems help prevent unnecessary leaching of nutrients into waterways and can result in more efficient fertilizer usage. They save water without sacrificing the landscape.
Smart technology has been used on public lands and in professional settings, but the technology is becoming more within the reach of the individual consumer.
The EPA labeling program could also include flow-control sprinklers, Kimmell said.
Flow-control sprinklers create a consistent output of water at any water pressure. With traditional systems, the first sprinkler on a line might overwater in order to get enough water to the last sprinkler with the weakest pressure.