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Smart irrigation technology for lawns

How can “smart” irrigation technologies help us in a drought?

This article is adapted from a recent post in the University of Minnesota Turfgrass Science News.

The Irrigation Association has deemed July as Smart Irrigation Month. According to their website,  the purpose of Smart Irrigation Month is "to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation technologies, products and services in landscape, turf and agricultural irrigation" (Irrigation Association, 2020).

A comparison of the drought conditions throughout Minnesota from June 1, 2021 (image on left) and July 20, 2021 (image on right). This data is collected and presented by the National Drought Mitigation Center of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?MN
Minnesota drought conditions on June 1 and July 20, 2021. This data is collected by the National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. See map transcript below.

The two maps from the University of Nebraska Drought Monitor make it easy to recognize the increased drought intensity that has occurred within the state of Minnesota over the last 40 or so days. The map from June 1 shows that roughly 75% of the state was experiencing some sort of drought, which affected approximately 750,000 Minnesotans. The map from July 20 indicates that more than 5 million Minnesotans are currently experiencing drought conditions that are significantly more intense than a month ago.

A post on Turfgrass Science News addresses the issue of drought within Minnesota

The benefits of smart irrigation technologies

These are a few of the smart technologies that currently exist for irrigation controllers: 

  • Rain sensor - As rain falls, the cork discs within the sensor begin to swell. This swelling interrupts communication for the irrigation controller and cancels any irrigation events until the discs dry out and shrink.
  • Soil moisture sensors -  A soil moisture sensor can tell you how “wet” the soil beneath your lawn is. Based on a previously set moisture level, irrigation events are canceled until the sensor detects the soil is “dry” and below the set moisture threshold.
  • Wi-Fi enabled irrigation controller - These controllers are often called “smart” controllers and can tap into local weather data from surrounding weather stations in the area.

These irrigation technologies, when properly installed, have been shown to apply less water than a traditional irrigation controller. What people may forget is they work under a variety of weather conditions.

Each type of technology is designed to help the homeowner apply the correct amount of water necessary for a lawn. This means they will stop the sprinkler system from running if it is raining and, during periods of drought such as we are currently experiencing, it will help to apply the appropriate amount of water to your lawn.

You may, or may not, have an irrigation system that can take advantage of these smart technologies, but you can learn more about what you can do to make a difference. To celebrate Smart Irrigation Month please share this information, and support your community in its efforts toward water-saving irrigation practices.

Find out more about technology to help your sprinkler system.

If you would like to learn more about how much water a typical lawn needs please see Water Wisely: Start in your own backyard and Water-saving strategies for home lawns.

Authors: Shane Evans, lawn water conservation educator, and Maggie Reiter, Extension turfgrass educator

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