Springtime sprinkler start-up made simple

Being proactive in the fall is a big boost to kick-starting irrigation system in spring.
Chris Davey
February 08, 2019
By Chris Davey
There are a number of important steps to follow every time a grounds manager needs to fill an empty irrigation system, whether that’s following a winterization in the fall, a new system pressurization, or any other time a system has been depressurized, such as after repairing a line break.  

To accomplish an irrigation system’s pressurization safely and efficiently, technicians will need to rely on a healthy dose of common sense, remain alert throughout the entire pressurization process and practise good communication with the other technicians.

Keys to success
Perhaps the most logical step in successfully starting up a sprinkler happens long before ever connecting the water source to the system in the spring. The best way to ensure that a springtime startup will go smoothly is by making sure fall winterization procedures have been done correctly and completely. This includes making sure there’s no damage to the electrical components, draining all of the water from the system, and actuating or manually bleeding the water from anything that is connected to the source, including valves, solenoids, breakers or actuators.

Being proactive in the fall during the winterization process not only helps protect the integrity of the irrigation system once it is started up again, but also helps grounds management teams manage their workload in a more effective way, as many of operations experience an increased workload and a sense of urgency to get the irrigation system up and running at the first sign of a warm-up.

This is in addition to all of the other springtime tasks that grounds management crews need to be thinking about, like seeding, removing winter debris, dethatching, fertilizing and controlling weeds. As for the irrigation system, anything that wasn’t properly maintained in the fall will need to be addressed in the spring, when time is at a premium. In short, as long as the system was properly maintained and put to bed in the fall, springtime startup can be a quick and painless job.

The process
Once grounds managers are confident that their system is ready to be activated, developing a startup process and communicating this process with the rest of the team is key. Each irrigation system is different and may require adjustments to the process, but most commercial irrigation systems can be ready to go in five simple steps:
  • Open drain valves in low areas of the system. At all high points and dead ends, technicians should manually turn sprinklers to the “On” position. This will allow air to bleed from the system during the process. Crews should avoid compressing air and relieving, but should instead bleed air from the lines while filling the system.
  • Adjust pressure regulation at the source. Technicians will want to keep the pressure below 50 pounds per square inch (psi) to to reduce the possibility of injury to team members and damage to the system itself. Technicians should supply water to the system at a velocity fill rate of less than two feet per second.
  • Monitor open drains close to the source and at the lowest elevation points. When steady water flow is detected at low-elevation drains, technicians should turn the sprinkler off and move to the next highest location. Repeat until air is completely evacuated, water is flowing and all venting locations have been closed.
  • Activate each sprinkler electronically. This allows any remaining air to escape while maintaining a maximum pressure of less than 50 psi. During this phase, technicians will want to identify any system component abnormalities and make repairs as necessary.
  • Confirm all air has been removed. Once this is complete, adjust the system pressure to the normal operating pressure.
Using common sense (and other senses, too!)
A healthy dose of common sense goes a long way when opening up an irrigation system for the season. The system is being put under a lot of pressure after lying dormant for several months, so technicians should take great care to inspect heads for any cracking or abnormalities before the process begins. Pressurizing a damaged head can cause it to disconnect from the irrigation system with considerable force, potentially causing harm to the system, and more importantly, posing a potential risk to technicians and crew members.

During pressurization, grounds managers and technicians will want to make sure that all team members are at a safe distance from the heads to avoid personal injury. Using personal protective equipment (PPE), like gloves and safety glasses is also recommended.

During the pressurization process, technicians will also want to remain extremely aware of their surroundings by paying close attention to what’s going on with the system every step of the way. A technician’s eyes and ears are the most important tools they have, as they will need to constantly monitor and identify any abnormalities that they see or hear while filling the system.

There are two ways to supply water to an operation’s irrigation system. The first is through a municipal source, and the second, most common way, is by pumping captured water from a lake, pond or cistern through the system. In the second scenario, listening carefully proves to be extremely important. Often, inconsistencies in the pump’s operation are an early indicator that there may be something the crew needs to address with the irrigation system.

Throughout the pressurization process, a team member should always be monitoring the functionality of the pump and be ready to communicate any odd noises to the rest of the team.

Albert Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” That statement is extremely applicable when opening up irrigation systems. A seasoned technician who knows all the nuances and intricacies of the irrigation system is extremely useful. They will know the locations of drains, couplers, elevation points and dead ends in the lines, which can help develop a plan for sequentially closing the high point vents, allowing the water to effectively drain out of the low points first.

A seamless startup
With the right formula, irrigation system startups can be quick and easy. Properly winterizing the system the previous fall, developing and working a plan, using common sense, capitalizing on the experience of seasoned technicians and being aware of one’s surroundings will help to ensure the springtime irrigation system startup goes off without a hitch.


Chris Davey is product marketing manager at Toro. He also co-hosts a radio show called, “The Water Zone,” sponsored by Toro, which is broadcast on Thursdays at 6 p.m. on iHeart radio and throughout Southern California on NBC News Radio stations. The podcast is available at http://waterzone.podcast.toro.com/.

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