Intelligence, Not Smarts, Should Drive Water Management

July is Smart Irrigation Month. It reminds me why I believe it should be Intelligent Irrigation Month.

Not long ago, local governments became excited with the prospect “smart irrigation.”  These systems would turn sprinklers on and off automatically. Some could sense when it rained. The very best would use broad, general weather patterns to operate irrigation systems.    And the definitely have their flaws, (have you ever seen city sprinklers running in the rain?).

But technology has drastically improved. Driverless cars are now on the streets. Drones may soon be delivering your Amazon package. We just sent a satellite to Pluto! And irrigation technology has moved beyond smart and into intelligent.

This is especially important in today’s world of conservation and seemingly permanent drought.

Mission Viejo Mayor Frank Ury

For example, during the past year, the State demanded that Orange County residents cut water use by upwards of 36%. Most residents proudly delivered. But this is just a drop in the bucket and doesn’t really solve the problem. Meanwhile, cities, HOAs and school districts use extraordinarily large amounts of water to irrigate parks, greenbelts, ball fields and golf courses.

Some of these large water users hoped their “smart” irrigation would achieve both conservation and green grass. But with mandatory cuts, these landscaped areas quickly went brown.

But in my city of Mission Viejo, we opted for intelligence.

Our parks stayed beautiful, the greenbelts are green, and golf courses healthy. The financial investment we made in these community assets was preserved. But here’s the best part: These landscaped areas are also using upwards of 40 percent less water than before!

That’s the power of intelligence, and it works like this:

Instead of turning irrigation on and off based on pre-set programs (the hallmark of “smart” irrigation), intelligent irrigation mimics Mother Nature. By using data – and lots of it – it knows precisely how much a plant needs to survive (our system measures to 0.001 of an inch!) It uses this data to operate the system and removes the often emotionally driven operator who is prone to cranking up the nozzle on a whim.

The result is agronomic-driven irrigation where a plant’s precise water needs – not people, a timer or pre-set program – literally dictates how much water is delivered…nothing more, nothing less.

Our new system achieves this result through a complex series of algorithms, advanced communications technology and millions of data points collected around the clock.  It’s the type of “Big Data” approach used by the most innovative, advanced companies in the world, and it’s available to our water districts, cities, HOAs, golf courses and even individual residents right now.

Our challenge as elected city and water district leaders is to push for more data- and intelligence-driven water management. When confronted by those who say, “we already have smart technology,” challenge them to prove it’s intelligent.

Too often, local governments are way behind the curve with data and technology. But when it comes to water and irrigation, we must do better. The technology is there. We must embrace it. We must be intelligent.


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