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Sensors could drop bucket of savings in LWR

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  • | 11:00 p.m. January 27, 2015
  • East County
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Lakewood Ranch residents pay for irrigation water, even though they don’t receive a bill. That’s why Lakewood Ranch Town Hall officials are promoting water-saving soil moisture sensor (SMR) technologies that a recent study revealed saved 30% more water, on average, annually, than their once-a-week watering counterparts with no SMS.

“It does make a difference,” said Lakewood Ranch Town Hall Executive Director Eva Rey. “Even though people don’t get a bill for their irrigation water, they do. It’s on their tax bill. Who doesn’t want to get their assessments down?”

In mid-January, Rey capped off implementation of a two-year irrigation plan with a presentation to Lakewood Ranch community development supervisors to advance Lakewood Ranch’s mission to become more water-wise.

The effort follows a irrigation initiative that included measures such as installation of SMS technology and pressure-monitoring devices, among others.

Rey said she hopes to keep the topic of SMS in the public forum in 2015 and hopes to develop a new program with incentives for residents to install SMS technology.

Lakewood Ranch irrigation water provider Braden River Utilities conducted the study by testing three types of SMS controllers at four homes in Mizner Reserve over two years. Four other homes were used as controls without SMS technology. (See related sidebar.)

In 2013, the homes with SMS achieved 34% water savings, with 264,800 gallons saved. In 2014, SMS achieved 39% savings with 287,400 gallons saved. At a rate of 95 cents per 1,000 gallons, that’s $251.56 and $273.03, respectively, across just four homes in CDDs 1, 2, 4 and 5 — there are 6,053 homes in total in those four districts.

Braden River Utilities’ Bob Simons said BRU considers the reduction to be between 25% and 30%, considering CDDs 1, 2, 4 and 5 consume an average per-month range of 100 million gallons of water. CDD 6 has a self-contained irrigation system and does not use BRU’s water.

A year-long rebate program that ended Oct. 31 allowed residents to get refunds up to $500 to install the technologies, which can cost up to that amount to install depending on the contractor hired. The program resulted in about 220 residences out of approximately 400 that were eligible installing technologies that allow them to switch to twice-a-week watering. Although the response was not as significant as Town Hall officials hoped, the result will still have an impact, Rey said.

Lakewood Ranch’s operations department’s conservation efforts over the last two years have produced significant results. For example, Operations Director Ryan Heise reported about $20,000 in savings from sprinklers not being used as much from June to December 2014 in CDD 4 alone because of SMS technologies.

“We’ve seen significant improvements over what used to be common occurrences — complaints about pressure, water quality,” Rey said, adding irrigation was a big issue from about 2007 to 2009.

Rey said to further promote water conservation efforts, she hopes to host another Science Cafe educational event, similar to the one Town Hall hosted on ponds.

“SMR/BRU is considering implementation of SMS devices as a requirement for all irrigation systems in future projects to increase irrigation conservation Lakewood Ranch-wide,” he said.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

Water 101
• What does soil moisture sensor technology do?
Soil moisture sensor technologies don’t just shut off sprinklers when it rains. Instead, they measure moisture in the ground 24/7 and only allow a system to come on when the soil moisture level falls below the needs of plant materials.

• What is the program Braden River Utilities/Schroeder-Manatee Ranch
initiated in Mizner Reserve?
BRU entered into a cooperative funding agreement with the Southwest Florida Water Management District to split the costs of up to $495 for purchasing and installing 400 SMS devices at homes in Lakewood Ranch. BRU was required to monitor the effectiveness of the technology.

• Why did BRU/SMR select Mizner Reserve for its SMS pilot program?
“Mizner Reserve was selected sure to it being a maintenance-free neighborhood where a contractor, not the homeowner, is responsible for control of the irrigation systems and application cycles, allowing for more consistent irrigation control,” said BRU’s Bob Simons.

• How did the study work?
SWFWMD approved four devices: the Rain Bird “Smarty,” Base Line, Acclima and UgMo, so only four test lots and four control lots were required. The comparative lots were matched to square footage, irrigation zones and irrigation application rates and were set to match watering times, length of cycle and application rates of the SMS lots.

Water savings
The two-year Braden River Utilities study found the following savings in four homes with SMS technology compared with four homes in the control group. The control group received once-a-week watering, while the SMS group received up to twice-weekly watering.




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