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You should watch that water

Check sprinklers during Smart Irrigation Month

Posted: July 7, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 7, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Properly placed and properly adjusted sprinklers provide the right amount of water to landscaping without overspray or runoff. You need to make a visual inspection of your sprinklers and watch them during operation to be sure everything is in order.

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You have a gardener who comes by twice a month, and an automatic sprinkler system, so you figure your home’s landscaping requires no attention from you. But then you take a week’s vacation — and, upon your return, find your front lawn has turned brown and the mud from a six-inch-deep trench in your planter is now spread out over your driveway.

You follow that trench and it leads you directly to the culprit: one broken sprinkler head. It should have been watering the lawn instead of shooting a geyser five feet in the air — a geyser, by the way, that lowered the pressure on the rest of your sprinklers so that none of your lawn got enough water. Oh, but the street got plenty.

Now, sprinkler heads sometimes get broken, and even more often they get turned or clogged. It’s just part of landscaping life. But when your automatic sprinkler system operates while you are asleep (or away), you may not be aware of minor irrigation problems until there is major vegetation damage. And, beyond that, your irrigation problems quite often waste water.

Nancy Warfel assists with the water conservation programs for the Castaic Lake Water Agency, and is in the process of becoming a certified landscape irrigation auditor. She said that July has been named Smart Irrigation Month by the Irrigation Association, and the initiative is intended to increase public awareness of the value of water use efficiency.

According to the IA, July is traditionally the month of peak water demand in North America. “There tends to be a lot of interest in water use efficiency in the summer, when it’s hot,” Warfel said. “People’s water bills go up and they pay more, so they think about it. It’s a good time to remind people to be sure their irrigation systems are working efficiently.”

With that in mind, Warfel went over the CLWA’s Irrigation Checklist with me, adding her own emphasis here and there.

Irrigation checkup
“Because we recommend watering between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., people generally don’t see what’s going on with their irrigation system,” Warfel said. So it’s really important to do an irrigation checkup.

“I remember the first time I watched an irrigation audit,” she said. “It was for a HOA and they didn’t know what was going on with their system. When the water was turned on, a broken line released a flood that washed down a hillside and knocked over trash cans. Hundreds of gallons of water were wasted, and it left a big impression on me.”

Visual inspection
The first thing you do for an irrigation system checkup is to make a visual inspection. Look for evidence of runoff, erosion or other water damage, dry or stressed plants, standing water or water marks on sidewalks, driveways and in the street.

“If you see brown spots in your lawn, there is clearly some kind of problem,” Warfel said. “And you might see marks on the pavement where long-term runoff has occurred.”

Turn on the system
After the visual inspection, turn on the water to check for sprinkler spray patterns. “It’s important to actually see it running,” Warfel said.

Pay attention to such things as sprinkler-to-sprinkler coverage, and that there is no overspray onto areas that don’t need watering. Look for breaks in lines and leaks around valves.

If you have a drip irrigation system, check for leaks, clogged emitters and that emitters are located near the roots they need to water. Check for rodent damage, as these animals sometimes chew on drip system plastic parts.

Heads and nozzles
Missing and broken sprinkler heads or nozzles should be replaced with the appropriate type. For example, you don’t need a 360-degree spray pattern in a corner. Sometimes sprinkler heads get bumped and take on a lean. In this case they need to be straightened up so they spray correctly.

Sprinkler heads often become turned and so don’t spray in the correct direction. For example, your corner spray head could be turned so that it sprays a nearby wall instead of the grass. “This is an easy fix,” Warfel said. “Just turn the head so it points the right way.”

Very often sprinkler heads become clogged with sand or other debris. To fix this you remove and clean the head, flush out the pipe, and replace the head, pointing it in the right direction.

Plants grow, and very often, tall grass or bushes can interfere with sprinkler spray patterns. Just trim things back the way they should be.

Warfel said that you can see photos of common irrigation problems and get more information at the watering guide at

The Castaic Lake Water Agency website ( offers a number of water saving tips for both your yard and inside your home. And Stephanie Anagnoson, the water conservation program coordinator at CLWA, pointed out that there are rebate programs available for purchasing high efficiency clothes washers and high efficiency toilets.

Though not all washers will qualify, stores that sell them will have lists of which do, and this is also available at the CLWA website. For example, CLWA, in cooperation with the Family of Water Suppliers, is funding rebates of up to $200 for high-efficiency washing machines with a water factor of 4.0 or less. These rebates are available for both residential and commercial accounts as long as funds are available.

“Acting before December would be a good idea,” Anagnoson said. And she added that, if you haven’t looked at washing machines lately, you will see prices of high efficiency washers have come down.

“Toilets are the largest water user inside the home, Anagnoson said. “The average person flushes the toilet eight times a day,” she said. And with older toilets that flush five gallons, that could add up to 160 gallons a day used by a family of four.

To help get rid of older toilets with large flushes, CLWA is funding a Family of Water Suppliers rebate of up to $80 for high-efficiency toilets (1.28 gallons per flush) for homes and buildings older than 1993. There is a limit of three rebates per house. “You might as well update all your toilets if you are having a plumber out there anyway,” Anagnoson said.

One of the latest developments in irrigation systems is the Weather-Based Irrigation Controller. These controllers take into account the zone you are watering, the sprinklers you have there, the soil type and the degree of slope — and they incorporate current weather data. It all comes together to provide just the right amount of water any zone needs.

While the retail price of these controllers is $600, you can get yours for free if you take a special workshop. CLWA is funding a Family of Water Suppliers program for these “smart controllers.” Once SCV residents or their landscapers complete the workshop, they will receive a free WBIC. You can install it yourself or hire someone to install it.

“We have a list of landscapers who have taken the class,” Anagnoson said.

When your WBIC installed, you must have it inspected to be sure it was installed correctly and is programmed correctly.

“We’re in the process of putting the course online,” Anagnoson said. But for now, to register for a workshop, call Rene Emeterio at 877-242-2262.

For information on all of the above, visit


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