Act Now for Future Gains
Toro Distributor Reesink Turfcare’s Irrigation Manager
Reading time: 10 minutes
It’s time to make your irrigation system more sustainable and get a head start over the competition
Irrigation faces numerous challenges – from tougher new regulations and climate change to public pressures for greater accountability and sustainability.
For the sports sector, optimising water efficiency is one of the greatest challenges. Finding better ways to use, reuse, and recycle water with innovative technologies is therefore a high priority for greenkeepers and groundskeepers alike.
Estimates vary, but according to the US Geological Survey, about 70 percent of all the world’s freshwater withdrawals go towards irrigation use and only half of that is reusable. The rest is lost through evaporation, evapotranspiration from plants, or is lost in transit by faults like leaking pipes.
Whereas, 90 percent of water for domestic and industrial use can be used again – so, it’s clear to see why making irrigation systems more sustainable is important for sports venues, landscaping, green spaces, and other amenities. All must look at ways of managing water use and employing sustainable irrigation methods.
How to employ more sustainable irrigation methods
Essentially, what we have is a two-pronged attack. It starts with the level to which irrigation is applied – a skill that can be greatly assisted by new technology.
Every green, fairway, sports pitch, training ground or estate parkland is different and, as such, one size fits all irrigation methods are rarely successful. It’s critical that applied water is fully utilised by the turf with minimal wastage. Thus water delivery and penetration is vital.
How much or how little should be applied? It sounds obvious, but we should only apply the amount of water needed. In our increasingly water scarce world, that is something all greenkeepers and groundskeepers should be preaching.
Moreover, applying the right amount on fewer occasions is far more effective for maintaining moisture levels – not to mention it’s a sustainable irrigation practice.
It allows water to get deeper into the soil, encouraging root growth and helping to reduce the amount of water that’s lost due to evaporation and transpiration.
When should you irrigate turf to prevent water waste?
Timing is important, too. Water should be applied to turf in the late evening or at night to prevent immediate loss through evaporation in the sun, allowing more to be absorbed by the soil and improving irrigation efficiency.
Golf courses and other sports venues often receive lots of attention when it comes to their water-saving efforts, especially during prolonged spells of warm weather. However, in general, many sites in the UK are already great examples of efficient water use. We’ll look at how a golf course and rugby club employ good sustainable irrigation practices in a moment.
The benefits of upgrading your old irrigation system
Efficient water management needs subject knowledge and up-to-date technology. Knowing how well your current irrigation system is performing is essential. How else can you make your irrigation methods more sustainable?
It goes without saying that using the latest irrigation technology and innovation enables turfcare professionals to significantly cut their water use and maintain optimal playing conditions. Having an old system can mean water losses of up to 25 percent, which is neither financially viable nor sustainable.
You should ideally complete a thorough check of your irrigation system every five years to see what’s in place, how it’s performing, and if any improvements can be made to save money and water resources.
Preventing unnecessary water waste also saves costs
Having a fully functional control system will ensure only the required amount of water is applied, while the information that can be taken from a soil monitoring system will also cut back on over-watering.
Modern sprinklers are key to improving water management. As irrigation control systems have advanced over the years, so have the sprinklers they control.
You should use sprinklers that have nozzle options and adjustment capabilities to apply water precisely where it is needed. By simply upgrading older sprinklers to today’s models, you can significantly reduce your water use – all without affecting play. You’ll also save money on your water bill!
Bring turfcare experience into the equation
Irrigation application is not just about pressing a button on an automatic system, though – no matter how good the system is. Nothing beats the knowledge of the person working the turf, whether that’s a greenskeeper, groundsperson, manager, gardener, landscaper, or estate manager.
Turf professionals are best placed to know when to employ maintenance practices such as aeration and spiking, which contribute to ensuring optimum penetration and efficient water usage.
They’ll also be able to properly check equipment. Are there any leaks or blockage? Is there a build up of limescale? Turf professionals can assess the uniformity of sprinkler radii, look out for signs of water hydrophobicity, which is common on dried-out sandy or thatch soils, and advise on the best grass mix for that location, considering finish and quality with drought-resistance.
A simple guide to sustainable irrigation
Like it or not, we will eventually reach a cut-off point when the water companies say ‘no more’. The second prong is hence a necessary diversification away from the mains water supply through the use of abstracted surface and groundwater and rainwater harvesting.
When we reach a cut-off, clubs that have been storing water will be at a distinct advantage over competitors; they’ll be more sustainable and have a head start!
Water management covers lakes, reservoirs, ponds, water courses, and boreholes. It’s possible to extract up to 20m2 a day from a watercourse or borehole without a licence. By working with the Environmental Agency, you’ll discover plenty more ways to extract water, create a water resource, or alter existing banks to make a water course more usable.
A great example is Oxfordshire’s Frilford Heath Golf Club and its 6m, 10 million gallon reservoir.
How to improve your golf club’s environmental sustainability
In an effort to become sustainable, head greenkeeper Sid Arrowsmith wanted to use reservoir water to irrigate the course. However, because water is piped from a brook downstream through farming fields, it would bring pollutants (waste and silt) with it. Consequently, the water started to smell, turn black in colour, and was too unhealthy to apply to turf.
But Sid didn’t give up. Working with the Environmental Agency, he installed a diffused aeration system that pumped air into the bed of the reservoir. This, in turn, releases oxygen and circulates the bottom and top water layers, allowing aerobic bacteria to metabolise the newly available nutrients.
Within 12 weeks he had water ready to use! This is a fantastic situation to be in. In no time at all, the club was one massive step closer to becoming self-sufficient with the reservoir holding good quality water that’s always ready to use.
Are football and rugby clubs limited for environmental sustainability?
Independent irrigation consultants and geologists are valuable sources of information for clubs wanting to start on their sustainability journeys. Sid found it hugely beneficial working with the Environmental Agency, and you could, too.
Football and rugby clubs are, of course, more limited due to the lack of space and the fact they’re usually situated in urban areas. Not many have a 10 million gallon reservoir at their disposal nor the space to create one!
Using locally harvested rainwater to sustainably irrigate turf
But there are ways. Leeds Rhinos, for example, has plans to install water holding tanks beneath the stands to harvest water from its roofs. Head groundsman Ryan Golding says the surface area there will collect a good amount of water to reuse.
Like Sid, the important thing for Ryan will be ensuring the water is thoroughly cleaned as, for pitch irrigation purposes, the salt content of the water, which can be high in rainwater, must be low enough to prevent damage and depreciation of the club’s existing irrigation system.
Ryan plans to test the nutritional value of the water every four weeks. From the results, he will decide whether to irrigate the pitch or use the collected water in the washrooms and showers.
Saving money while saving the planet
Three years ago, Leeds Rhinos invested in a new irrigation system, knowing that a high spec system could contribute towards water sustainability, save money, and improve grass-growing conditions.
Ryan says the efficient head-to-head sprinklers, soil sensing equipment, weather station system, and integrated pump stations have had a big impact on how much water they use – and on the club’s bottom line.
Mains water is not cheap. Efficient irrigation is not only better for the planet, but also your budget!
The future of sustainable irrigation in sport
Looking at other sports, Sport England’s Sustainable Cricket Project reports that 84 percent of clubs use mains water for irrigation and that a typical 20-minute watering during pitch preparation uses 500-800L (0.5-0.8m3) of water.
With water rates changing every three months, it’s easy to see why, for budgetary planning purposes, controlling water usage and spend is beneficial. Leeds Rhinos stand as testament to that.
Reducing water consumption, reducing run-off, and selecting drought-tolerant grasses are all steps in the right direction for improved sustainability in sport.
Water costs will rise and tighter regulations will become more of an issue. Acting now, then, will not only offer long-term cost savings but prepare you for achieving full sustainability – a head start you might be grateful for one day!
For a chat with Robert about your irrigation needs, call him on 07776 187243 or visit www.reesinkturfcare.co.uk/irrigation-landing