The Anatomy of your Irrigation System
It must be spring, because every year–about this time–a spectacular thing happens. The weather warms up and water erupts from the ground! Spontaneously it jets here and there, in arches and columns, and quickly disappears down a storm drain–never to be seen again. Driving to work feels like a scene from Fantasia.
People have begun to use their irrigation systems to water their lawns. After several harsh months and inactivity, their sprinklers have fallen into disrepair. And, I hate to say it, this dramatic display tells me that they are wasting hundreds of gallons of water a day. Four of Cheryl Buckwalter’s(fellow Blue Thumb Blogger) “Top Ten Ways to Have a Beautiful, Water-wise Landscape” include checking your irrigation system before the hot summer season kicks in. But, do you really know what you are looking for, and how it all works?
I understand that all of this irrigation “stuff” can be confusing sometimes. So, I’d like to help. I often view the parts of your irrigation like the anatomical systems of our bodies. Let’s hop on The Magic School Bus and go for a ride through The Anatomy of your Irrigation System.
The Timer–If you have an automatic irrigation system, then you have a timer to run it. This is quite literally the Brain of the whole operation. It determines when the water comes on, how long it runs, and how often this happens. You should really get to know your timer–read the manual or ask a professional how to use it. Thirty percent of your yearly water use can be saved by using your timer correctly. You should even contact your water provider to see if they have a rebate program to help you purchase a timer that automatically adjusts itself with the weather!
Valves–From your timer, a small bundle of wires runs–like your nervous system–to your irrigation valves. When your timer sends the signal, these valves open and close in order to distribute water to the appropriate areas in your yard. This is much like the way your Heart controls your blood flow. You should operate your valves individually from your timer to make sure that they are responding correctly to your timer’s directions. Then, check your valves for leaks. If your valve continues to make noise after your timer has told it to shut off, then you will likely need to repair or replace it.
Pipes–Now your pipes might seem like a no-brainer. They are like your Arteries and they move your water around your yard to your sprinklers. But there is a point to be made here. You have two types of pipes: lateral lines and main lines. Lateral lines only contain water when your valves supply it to them and they connect directly to your sprinklers or drip lines. Main lines, however, always contain water! When these are broken, water is being wasted 24/7 until you shut it off or have it repaired.
Sprinklers–These are the only moving parts of your irrigation system. That’s why I’m going to call them the Muscle of your irrigation. They are what get the job done! You will know when there is a problem with them. They either shoot a ton of water or are plugged up and spray very little. Fix them when broken; they waste many gallons of water per minute! Also, check them to make sure that they are correctly matched. It is a bad idea to have a bunch of mixed sprinklers running together. Every sprinkler applies water at a different rate. When they are mixed, you can never figure out how much time to run them. This is just like the way you might workout to build muscle. Too much of one workout could make a guy look like Charles Atlas from the waist up and Pee Wee Herman to the ground.
I hope that this little trip through your irrigation system has helped to demystify irrigation a little for you. If this all seems too technical to you, remember there is always an army of qualified irrigation specialists on the Green Gardener list (http://www.greengardener.org/find_a_green_gardener.htm), who would love to help. At least now you have a few buzz words to spring on them to help you guide them to the problem. As much as I enjoy a good show in the morning, I hate to see all of those resources wasted. Let’s spend a little time with our irrigation to ensure that my commute is a little more boring.