Tapping High-Tech Solutions to Manage Water

Tapping High-Tech Solutions to Manage Water

[Editor's Note: This post complements the article "Water-Saving Strategies to Make Every Drop Count" on GreenBiz.com with an overview of some emerging and established solutions.]
A growing number of smart solutions to monitor and control water used for landscaping are available to property owners and managers as businesses become increasingly aware of the need to consume the resource more efficiently.

Here's a look at some products from longtime and emerging companies.

ET Water Systems Inc.

Founded in 2002 and based in Novato, Calif., ET Water Systems Inc. has positioned its products as smart, robust options that are affordable and easy to use.

{related_content}The company, whose flagship product is the SmartBox self-adjusting irrigation control system, solidified its strategy with the recent rollout of its plug-and-play SmartWorks replacement panel for traditional irrigation controllers

SmartWorks cost less than $2,000 to install, has an average annual fee of about $200 and provides a payback on the investment in less than two years, according to the company. In general, water bill reductions using ET products range from 20 to 50 percent and savings can be seen immediately, spokesmen say.

"A lot of people tend to take water for granted because they think it is free and then are very cavalier about its use on landscaping," says  ET CEO Pat McIntyre.

ET Water Systems (the ET stands for evapotranspiration) marry local weather data, horticulture and irrigation science and the power of IT to ensure that landscaping receives only the water it needs based on the type of plants being watered, their root depth, the type of soil, plant microclimate, the slope of landscape, irrigation method and weather, McIntyre says.

"This is a great tool" says Heidi Romppanen, a landscape manager for CB Richard Ellis whose area of responsibility stretches across the greater San Francisco Bay Area from San Jose to Sacramento.

Romppanen hailed the product for its ability to deliver exactly the right amount of water when and where it's needed on properties, regardless of their size and complexity. And for all its sophistication as a tool, it is very easy to use, she says.

Property managers for Autodesk, Adobe Systems and residential properties are among the clients providing testimonials about ET on its website.


Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Petaluma, Calif., HydroPoint's products and services saved subscribers to the company's WeatherTRAK solution 11.3 billion gallons of water, 45 million kilowatt hours and 60 million pounds of CO2 last year, according to the company.

"I believe companies and industries, regardless of their focus, are now taking a keener look at their water and how they save," says HydroPoint Vice President of Marketing Sharon Thompson.

That trend has paid off for HydroPoint, whose roster of clients grew to more than 16,000 subscribers in 2009. They included Jack-in-the-Box, eBay, Lockheed Martin, Cisco, McDonald's, WalMart, Amazon and Advanced Micro Devices, real estate developers and municipalities.

Most recently, HydroPoint has been in the news for its work with the Campbell Union School District in Northern California and the city of Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County.

The school district saved $111,000 and 36 million gallons of water in 2009 through its program with HydroPoint. Forty-five HydroPoint WeatherTRAK smart controllers were installed at 12 campuses to care for 100 acres of turf.

The district, which reduced landscape water use by 40 percent, logged savings with its first water bill after the installation and hit the payback point on its investment in eight months.

In February, the company launched its largest smart water management project to date in Santa Clarita, where outdated irrigation timers are being replaced on 700 acres of city property including parks, roadway medians and streetscapes.

The initial phase of the program is expected to save 20 million to 40 million gallons annually. Overall savings upon completion is expected to top 180 million gallons a year with the installation of 400 controllers.

Rain Bird

Based in Glendora, Calif., the privately held Rain Bird Corporation traces its roots to 1933 and is the largest manufacturer of irrigation systems.

The company offers products and services across a range of prices, and its systems are used around the world. International sites include Rome's Olympic Stadium and the Glasgow Rangers Soccer Club.

High-profile sites using Rain Bird's smart Maxicom Central Control system include the Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Smithsonian, the Wynn Resort Casino in Las Vegas, Harvard Business School and Brigham Young University, says spokeswoman Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd.

The technology underpinning weather-based controls has been around for years, she says, and was pioneered for the golf course industry.

"They use such large quantities of water they can’t afford to do it wrong," says Riley-Chetwynd. "The difference now is that people are realizing the technology exists -- and it's available at a price point that works for people in a package that’s easy to access."

"Just in the last year we've seen raised awareness and raised demand for smart solutions," she says, adding that in terms of ease of use, "there’s really no night and day difference theses days between how accessible a regular controller can be versus a smart controller."

Emerging Companies and Solutions

Aquacue, Valcent's VertiCrop and More Crop Per Drop are among the emerging enterprises showcased recently by NASA's LAUNCH:Water forum to help firms with innovative solutions gain traction with potential investors and other supporters as well as the public.

Aquacue has developed a benchmarking system using leak detection technology and provides an overview of its system in a slide presentation that is included in the GreenerBuildings.com Resource Page.

VertiCrop by Valcent, whose vertical farming system was installed in a UK zoo last summer to grow animal feed, produces up to 20 times the yields per horizontal square foot compared to traditional farming. GreenerBuildings Executive Editor Rob Watson, a member of the LAUNCH advisory council, wrote about Aquacue and VertiCrop earlier this month.

More Crop per Drop involves work by Professor of Plant Nutrition and Physiology Marc van Iersel and others at the University of Georgia to develop affordable soil moisture sensors. In addition to increasing water efficiency, savings and environmental benefits, the sensors are being designed to maximize plant growth by measuring variables in the rooting and aerial environments. Irrigation is automatically activated based on changes in soil moisture as plants take up water, Iersel says in his material for LAUNCH: Water.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user m.eckelberg.