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Reduce your irrigation nightmares by being proactive in your approach

March 9, 2010  By  Mike Jiggens

BY being proactive, one’s irrigation nightmares can be reduced
substantially. What it takes is preplanning, routine maintenance and a
knowledgeable contractor and staff.

Stephen Macartney, a partner with Raintree Irrigation & Outdoor Systems in Hamilton, Ont., addressed the topic of “servicing your irrigation system” at the Sports Turf Association’s 22nd annual field day in Brantford, Ont. last fall.

He said the proactive approach begins with people, suggesting employees and staff should be fully trained.

“When possible, get your staff to do hands-on training,” Macartney said. “Try to train everybody because it’s a lot easier to get your guys to go out the next day and fix a minor problem.”

Minor glitches can often take a contractor two or three days to respond to, but if sports field staff can remedy the problem themselves, fewer headaches are realized, he said.

Municipalities can take advantage of winter training sessions for their employees. Landscape Ontario is among the organizations which provide such training opportunities.

“When you do hire a contractor, try to preapprove him. Hire contractors with proven track records. Get reference checks from jobs they’ve done, and are they certified?”

Macartney suggested a consultant be hired whenever a major irrigation project is to be done.

“You’re not the expert. They are.”

Macartney addressed a number of practices that can be conducted either regularly or at specific times of the year, each designed to streamline irrigation and avoid potential setbacks.

Spray openings should be scheduled as soon as possible, he said, adding they should be preplanned with maintenance programs, topdressing and aeration scheduled accordingly with all paperwork in order. Site descriptions on where everything is should be included.

“This makes it a lot easier for sending guys out to do the work.”

Backflows should be tested and inspected before spring startup, Macartney said. Pumps, weather stations and other equipment should be serviced, installed and ready to go each spring. Additionally, a supply of such parts as sprinkler heads, valves, pipe and fittings should be close at hand so that repairs can be done easily and efficiently.

“When you do a spray opening, check out your water supply and ensure there’s no problems or leaks. Check controller for operation and replace battery if required. Turn on your water supply slowly to reduce the potential damage from water hammer. Once that’s done, you can check your main line and make sure there’s no leaks.”

He stressed checking all zones with the controller, and to look for the proper rotation of heads, that coverage is correct, and that all heads are straight and at the proper height.
“You don’t want a child to trip over them on a soccer field.”

The height of valve boxes need to be checked before mowing takes place.

“The last thing you want to be doing is cutting lids off or sucking them up in the mowers.”

By not following those steps, problems will occur, Macartney said.

“If they are followed, you’ll have less headaches and less complaints about your field.”
Controllers should be programmed, and one should always check for schedules which state when watering can occur and when it can’t, when fields are being used, and if there are any local watering restrictions.

“There’s a lot more cycle and soak, depending on what your field conditions are and your soil conditions. Do you have a rain sensor, and, if you have one, does it work?”

Macartney warned municipalities will be bombarded with complaints if fields are being watered when it’s raining.

Midseason inspections should be conducted weekly or bi-weekly to safeguard against major problems or leaks, he said, adding the procedure will be similar to that of spring opening except water won’t be turned on for the first time.

Heads need to be inspected regularly to prevent tripping hazards. Ensure all zones are working through the controller and that controllers be adjusted for weather requirements, he said.

When scheduling fall closing blowouts, a plan should be developed which takes into account fall seeding, topdressing, aeration and the dates fields are to be closed for the season. Other considerations include any construction or retrofit work which needs to be done before the season ends.

Macartney said it’s important to know the location of isolation valves, control valves, couplers and shutoffs, adding it’s useful to have them highlighted on a map.

Use only metal and brass fittings for blow connections, he said.

Safety must be practised during a fall closing, Macartney said, suggesting compressors never be left unattended. Operators need to stay in communication with two-way radios, and should never stand above or near a sprinkler head in case they inadvertently become projectiles during the process.

When water is shut off, it is important to confirm all valves are fully shut at the water supply end to ensure no leaks occur during the winter. He said the shutoff valve must be turned off to prevent accidental opening.

Broken pipe or any potential problems must be recorded or flagged at closing, Macartney said.

“Fix them before you forget about them and you run into them in the springtime. In the springtime, you never have the time to fix that stuff.”

Ducts should be tested and valves and backflows drained, he suggested.

“When you’ve finished doing your blowout, always make sure there’s no air left in the system because you’ll have that whole mainline full of air and you can really injure yourself when you take off the air hose, so make sure all the air is expelled.”

Water meters should be removed and backflows which aren’t winterized tagged and stored in a warm place, he said.

Pump stations should also be well winterized.

“A little extra time on winterization will save you time in the spring.”

The past couple of years have served to better educate those who deal with irrigation systems on a regular basis.

“We know a lot more about soil relationships, weather and how to water properly.”
Central control has also become cheaper in recent years, making it easier than ever to invest in these systems, Macartney said.

“This way you can work on your sites remotely, which saves you a lot of time and aggravation going to the site.”

A big key for sports fields today is moisture sensors.

“Put moisture sensors in the field, and it waters only when required.”

Although it is popular mainly in residential and commercial applications, Macartney said the harvesting of rainwater is a growing trend to help save money on water.

Raintree Irrigation & Outdoor Systems has been in business since 1987, serving the Golden Horseshoe area from Fort Erie to east of Toronto. The company employs between 30 and 40 people, and services and installs irrigation systems from small rooftop balconies to large sports fields and some golf applications.

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