For The Answer
By Calvin Finch, PhD, SAWS Conservation Director, and Horticulturist
Week of December 22, 2003
Efficient Irrigation Systems and New Rules in San Antonio
Most of the people in San Antonio do not have an in-ground irrigation system for their landscape. Those of us who do generally use more water than our neighbors who do not. An irrigation system is not needed for an attractive landscape. It is a luxury item which means that folks with an irrigation system have special responsibilities to make sure it is well designed and maintained.
Irrigation systems need repair and adjustment at least once each year. Drip lines must be checked regularly to keep connections in place. Broken heads have to be replaced. Adjustments in spray direction have to be made periodically. San Antonio Water System can help you with our free Irrigation Check-Up service. We send out a technician who checks the system for problems and provides a detailed report of any design or maintenance problems. This is free to any homeowner or business owner in San Antonio. Call 704-7354 to schedule an appointment. The visit takes about 45 minutes and someone should be at home to receive the report.
Anyone who repairs irrigation systems must be a licensed irrigator or be working under the supervision of a licensed irrigator. The irrigator responsible for the work also must be registered with the City of San Antonio. You should find a state license number displayed on their work vehicle
Another important irrigation requirement is a backflow preventer. These are safety devices that protect your home’s water supply. They are located between the water main at your home and the irrigation system. Without them there is the potential for unclean water from your yard to be drawn into the drinking water supply. Because the backflow peventer is so important, it must be inspected every two years. If you have an older one, you should call an irrigator to have it checked for effective operation.
If you are considering an irrigation system and are willing to perform the maintenance described, here is some advice on purchasing a new system.
1. Zone your system according to water needs and require a diagram of the proposed system. Check that grass areas are not watered on the same “zone” or watering section as bedding areas that need less water. It is also good to separate foundation plantings like shrubs that will need very infrequent water once they are established. If there is a shady area of your landscape, it will need much less water than the sunny areas. Put it on a separate “zone” as well. It may appear looking at the diagram you are given that there are more irrigation heads than seem necessary. Good irrigation design uses plenty of spray heads so water spray overlaps for even coverage. This is more efficient and cheaper in the long run.
2. Use drip irrigation for flowers and shrubs. Drip irrigation is great for plants and uses water efficiently. It works by bringing water close to the soil with tubes that slowly leak out water into the soil. Very little water is lost. There is some added labor time in laying out the drip tubing in garden beds. One way to lower the cost of your system is to ask your contractor to set up the connections for the drip tubing and let you connect it and lay it where you want it later. Snaking the drip lines among your garden bed and staking it down is simple and helps you know exactly where it is for future maintenance checks.
Once you have come to an agreement with your irrigation professional about design and cost, he/she will get a permit with the City of San Antonio for completing the work. One important benefit of this permit is that a city Plumbing Inspector will visit your property to check the irrigation system before it is completed. Once the pipes are covered and everything looks complete, then you can check the system and make sure it is operating well.
3. Final Diagram of System. Ask for an “as-built” diagram of the system for your records so you will know where everything is underground. Also post a color-coded diagram of the system next to the controller box. You will be grateful for it every time you go to turn on one zone and need to remember which numbered zone matches a certain part of the landscape.
The City of San Antonio and San Antonio Water System have been working with the San Antonio Irrigation Association for several years to improve irrigation standards. The required city irrigation license from the City of San Antonio and new inspections of irrigation systems are part of this effort. Small businesses that may not be familiar with the new standards and rules should contact San Antonio Water System Conservation Department for more information. There will also be a free irrigation license course offered in January to help small irrigation business owners get credentials they need. Call Karen Guz, SAWS Conservation Planner, at 704-7354 for more information about irrigation and/or the available training.
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