Thursday, May 21, 2015

On the Leak-sticle Beat With Miami-Dade’s Urban Conservation Unit

In journalist parlance, the listicle is an article written in list form. You’ve probably read a couple in the past few days. Popularized by online publications and an effective means for addressing a variety of topics under a common theme, the listicle is here to stay.

Here at the IrriGator blog we are nothing if not pioneers. So I give you our first attempt at a “leak-sticle,” a listicle about leaks in urban landscape irrigation systems! And for motivating this venture I must acknowledge some colleagues in South Florida.

Will it float? The answer is yes.
Recently, UF/IFAS Miami-Dade’s Urban Conservation Unit (U.C.U.) used Facebook to recap some of the most egregious leaks and breaks they’ve encountered in the field thus far this year. The spectrum (many pictured here) runs from extravagant geysers and sloppy gushers to the subterranean and obscured. In all cases, however, there is a combination of issues that contribute to this kind of system disrepair and water waste. I spoke with the U.C.U. to get additional insight about these top leaks and arrive at some conclusions on how to avoid these kinds of disasters.

Who is the U.C.U.? Jesus Lomeli and Laura Vasquez
Wet Checks – Conduct Them Regularly
A wet check (or walk through) is when you or your irrigation professional turn on the system and walk the irrigated areas to look for leaks, clogs or other irregularities. You cannot do a wet check on a system and miss these colossal breaks!

Wet checks help detect both subtle and more apparent system issues
“This is typical. This is what we see out there,” said Laura Vasquez, FYN Coordinator and U.C.U. member, in reference to the images. “We recommend everyone take time to walk through the system at least once a month and get involved with the maintenance of your system. It’s automated, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to run perfectly every time it turns on.”

Technology – Where Possible, Use It
Smart, wireless and in the cloud - we are all about better living through technology today. So how does this apply to irrigation? With respect to leaks, U.C.U. technician Jesus Lomeli suggests flow sensors.

An example of a wireless flow sensor
“A flow sensor connects to your timer and system mainline and can detect leaks (an imbalance in the flow rate) and will shut off a zone until someone comes to service the break. These work for large property and residential property systems.”

According to Mr. Lomeli, some timers can also send alerts via text or email when the flow sensor notes a problem, so someone is made aware of the maintenance issue. Because, as Mr. Lomeli underscored in our conversation, awareness is critical. 

Curbside appeal? Not exactly
"In most instances with these locations, the property managers were not aware of the leaks, and if they were, there was no hurry to repair things. Some timers were even scheduled to run every day. If this kind of water loss was happening indoors, inside a property, it would have been dealt with immediately.”

Design – Hydrozone and Low Flow
What was starkly obvious to me in this collection of top leak images was the underlying contribution of poor system design. Many of these breaks happened on risers or on high-volume spray heads in shrub and ornamental landscape areas. 

Everything shrubs: an ideal area for drip line irrigation 
This is not the proper way to irrigate such plant life. Shrub areas need to be on their own irrigation zone separate from turf areas (hydrozoning) and should be watered using drip line or micro-sprays (low volume). You can't break a spray head that doesn’t exist.

What even is this image? Water waste!
To Be Continued…
Since these leak images are part of a Facebook album, there are plans to add more as they are gruesomely encountered in the field, providing additional opportunities for everyone to learn from bad management practices.

“So far this program year we’ve seen 89 single family homes and 34 large properties,” Mr. Lomeli said.

Resuscitating your system this summer? Take a lesson from EPA WaterSense
And now that everyone has a renewed interest in irrigation rebates and recommendations in the climbing South Florida temperatures, the U.C.U. is sure to stay in the field and busy into fall.

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