Auto irrigation can waste water too

Since they don't take season or weather into account, automated irrigation systems don't always conserve water.

People used to water their lawns when the grass began to pale and turn yellow, but today’s lawns never get the chance to do that.

Okanagan Basin Water Board director Tom Siddon made the comment at Tuesday’s regular meeting in Kelowna in commenting on the efficiency of modern automated irrigation systems.

“I suspect automated systems are ‘wasting’ water by coming on whether they’re needed or not,” he added.

However, director Gerry Zimmermann said he’d always understood that automatic watering systems saved water.

OBWB executive-director Anna Warwick Sears said the difficulty is that with automatic systems weather is no longer a factor in whether a lawn or garden receives water, while it played a significant role when most people watered by hand.

However, she said there are now ‘smart’ irrigation systems as well as ‘stupid’ ones. The smart ones include sensors that alert the system to how much soil moisture or rainfall there is before turning the irrigation on.

OBWB chairman Stu Wells noted that most systems are set to run for the same length of time in April as in July, when more water is likely to be needed because it’s hotter and drier in mid-summer.

However, most people don’t know how to operate their system, and they never change the settings so they’re different for spring and fall than for the heat of summer. Instead irrigation should be scheduled to account for seasonal differences, he noted.

Most people also don’t turn off their systems during rainy periods when irrigation is not needed, he noted.

“Some education is needed,” noted Zimmermann.

Director Doug Findlater said there was a 25 per cent drop in five years in domestic water use in the Westbank Irrigation District area when that utility installed meters and began charging users for the amount of water they used.

That allowed the municipality, once it took over the WID system, to drop plans for an immediate increase in upland storage, he said.

He noted that people in the large lots in Lakeview Heights didn’t like receiving $700 water bills, so they reduced their water consumption as a result.