Incorporating Green Infrastructure into Irrigation Systems

As an irrigation specialist, if you’re not already on the “green infrastructure bandwagon,” what’s holding you back?

The green infrastructure (or GI) movement is growing in communities throughout the U.S.  In its position statement, the national Irrigation Association has officially recognized GI as “a promising new market” for irrigation contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers.

(To access the Irrigation Association’s 2014 webinar titled “Green Infrastructure: The Role of Irrigation in Stormwater Management,” Click Here.)

What Is It, and Why Is It Important?

In a nutshell, green infrastructure utilizes living plant material to create a more natural method for stormwater mitigation. GI tools include vegetated swales, rain gardens, porous concrete, green roofs and rain barrel installations.  (See related article, “Rainwater Harvesting: Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away!“)

Why is this an important topic for irrigation and landscape professionals?

Well, for one thing, in our current era of heightened water quality concerns, new state and federal investments are being aimed specifically at green infrastructure.

“The opportunity here is to be a resource for water quality managers and sustainability professionals.” That’s according to Paul Lander (Ph.d, ASLA, LEED AP), a consultant with Dakota Ridge Partners in Boulder, Colo.

“In almost every city across the nation, they’re going to have a whole suite of things on their plates. If there’s an opportunity (for irrigation professionals) to be seen as a resource, the profession’s going to go a lot further, and we’ll get more resources coming our way to help with this green infrastructure movement.”

It’s All About Runoff

The big issue, of course is stormwater runoff. Particularly with combined sewer systems, where the stormwater pipes connect to the sewage pipes. Combined sewer systems are found in approximately 860 municipalities across the U.S.. These are mostly concentrated in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Great Lakes.

Not only is this a waste of stormwater, but the sewage treatment facilities are not designed to handle the large volume of water that occurs from a rain event. With as little as a 1/4 inch of rainwater, the combined systems will overflow the rainwater mixed with untreated sewerage into the local waterways.

You may recall when Ohio’s stormwater runoff issues became national news in 2014. That’s when the pollution in Lake Erie forced the City of Toledo to shut off its water supply. For three days.

Green infrastructure has been heralded as a more efficient and effective solution to these water pollution issues than traditional gray infrastructure.

For Municipalities and Neighborhoods

John  Farner, Government and Public Affairs Director for the Irrigation Association, recently explained that, at the municipal or county level, GI refers to the patchwork of natural areas that provide habitat, flood protection, cleaner air, and cleaner water for the community.  (See related article, “Can the Ohio River Be Saved?”)

With neighborhoods, on the other hand, GI refers to stormwater systems that mimic nature by soaking up and storing water. Many states and municipalities (such as Philadelphia) have adopted holistic approaches to watershed management that strongly feature green infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, landscape overwatering is commonplace, Lander said. And it’s the bane of water quality managers. These local, state and federal officials are tasked with ensuring compliance with regulations to minimize ill effects on water sources.

“Increasingly, nonpoint-source pollution, like irrigation runoff, is coming under scrutiny by these folks,” Lander said. Landscape and irrigation professionals who aren’t familiar with nonpoint-source pollution are behind the times, he added.

Opportunity Missed?

Not only that, but they’re missing out on a huge opportunity to partner with water quality managers in pursuit of GI projects.

“It’s all the little things around us that in aggregate can have a big impact,” Lander said. He believes the onus is on the professional irrigation community to step up and participate.

Why? “Sites need green infrastructure and green infrastructure will need smart irrigation,” he said.


Sources:

Irrigation Association

Irrigation Market Watch

NPR.org

Rainwater Harvesting: Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away!

With April upon us, we are reminded that every year Mother Nature provides us with trillions of gallons of water. Free of charge. In the form of rain.

Last year, for instance, the storms which pummeled the Carolinas dropped enough water to halt California’s five-year drought. And yet, few of us take advantage of learning how to capture this precious resource.

Instead, it flows off lawns into streams, then rivers, then oceans.

A recent article in Irrigation & Green Industry magazine suggests that, when irrigation specialists build cisterns to harvest rainwater, they are providing their customers with “manna from heaven.”

But they’re also helping to build the water infrastructure of the future. And providing themselves with an additional revenue source.

New Revenue Stream

Paul Lawrence, president of Texas Land & Water Designs LLC, has been installing rainwater harvesting systems for the past seven years, and he’s a huge proponent of the practice. Lawrence feels that, not only is it a good source of revenue, but startup costs are low for the contractor.

“Licensed irrigators already have many of the skills that are required for rainwater harvesting; it’s a real natural fit for them,” he says.

And it’s not as complicated as it might seem. Virtually every house and commercial building already possesses roofing, gutters and downspouts. The catchment system simply takes the rainwater that now flows down the street and stores it for use at a later date.

The Basic Setup

There are several different options for storing rainwater: above-ground storage tanks, below-ground cisterns, or downspouts directed to bioswales. Smaller systems (such as those that capture less than a hundred gallons) can use rain barrels for storage.

Whatever option is chosen, a pump may be required to release the water when it’s ready to be used. Most pumps on residential systems are between one-third and one horsepower. That amount of power is sufficient to pressurize the water for either spray or drip irrigation. The pump can be activated manually, or a controller can be used to automate the rainwater flow into the irrigation system.

A couple of important considerations:

  • Sanitation should be the first consideration. At the very least, a screen should be placed in the gutter over the downspout. This will keep out large particulate matter, large solids and leaves.
  • Storage tanks must be properly sealed against pests and bacteria; otherwise, the water inside can become toxic.

  • Every storage tank needs to have an overflow device to prevent backup in heavy-rain situations.
  • The overflow device should be fitted with a flapper valve that will close up immediately after excess water has stopped flowing out. This will keep vermin from crawling up the spout.

An Attractive Option

For property owners who find traditional storage units unattractive, more aesthetically-pleasing options are available. For instance, Aquascape, an Illinois-based company, offers its “RainXchange” system, which combines a recirculating, decorative water feature with an underground storage basin.

According to Irrigation & Green Industry magazine, RainXchange offers the same functionality of other storage systems. Specifically, “It makes use of modular storage basins, stackable blocks that are somewhere between milk crates and Legos, which can be arranged in different shapes to fit a variety of application settings. They sit inside a rubber membrane to form a single, water-tight unit underground.”

Contractors can install the RainXchange system under turf grass. An increasingly common option is to install the system beneath a patio made of permeable pavers. According to Ed Beaulieu, director of field research for Aquascape, “This way, the pavers act as a catchment area that prefilters the rainwater before it enters the blocks. It’s very, very efficient.”

The following video demonstrates the installation of a similar underground system by a Texas-based vendor, Innovative Water Solutions:

 

Closer to home, Rain Brothers, a rainwater-harvesting company based in Columbus, offers system design services throughout Ohio and much of the Midwest.

A simple residential project typically runs between $1,500 and $5,000, depending on a variety of factors, such as size and excavation costs. For instance, if a client’s property doesn’t allow room for heavy equipment, digging by hand will increase the labor time substantially.

Who Are the Target Customers?

According to most irrigation contractors, conservation is the primary motivator when property owners consider installing a rainwater catchment system. Despite the fact that the installation costs them money, these clients are more worried about the long-term consequences of water shortages, pollution and soil erosion.

They may have heard that capturing rainwater is a tried-and-true method of simultaneously controlling runoff and withstanding drought conditions.

“In a residential setting, it’s next to impossible to show an ROI in three to five years,” Lawrence says. “By and large, those clients are doing it for environmental concerns.”

Add It to Your Menu of Services

Rainwater harvesting is a viable permanent addition to the menu of services offered by landscape professionals. As homeowners rediscover this ancient practice of capturing rainwater, contractors will have increasing opportunities to offer their services for installation projects.

Contractors can easily acquire the skills necessary to get started with catchment system installations. And there is an abundance of resources to ensure your success. The national Irrigation Association offers online classes on the subject, such as “Water Quality of Alternative Water Sources” and “Earning Points for Green Projects.”

In addition, the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) hosts workshops across the country for those seeking to pass their accredited professional exam. The ARCSA also offers a Resource Guide of rain harvesting designers, educators and suppliers.

Once you’re up to speed on best practices, rainwater harvesting can become a highly profitable source of revenue for your company… and a valuable service for your customers.


Sources:

Irrigation & Green Industry Magazine

Irrigation Association

Innovative Water Solutions

American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association

Brave New World – Trends and Opportunities in the Emerging Green Environment

Tom Barrett Portrait

Tom Barrett

Three Latest Trends

Tom Barrett, an international business consultant and a nationally known landscape and irrigation industry expert, keynoted the Ohio Irrigation Association’s Annual irrigation contractor meeting at the CENTS convention on January 7, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. Tom’s presentation focused on the top three latest trends:

  • Current economic conditions;
  • National industry trends in the environmental movement; and
  • Social trends that affect the emerging purchasing behavior in today’s consumer.

In 2014 the irrigation and landscape industry grew between 6% to 8% across the nation. However, this trend was not uniform throughout the country or even in metropolitan areas. Wealthy areas, like northern Columbus, Ohio, experienced greater growth than poorer areas of the city and the country.

In 2015 Expect a 9% Increase in Commercial Construction

Dodge Reports,  the largest provider of commercial construction project plans and news, latest trend reports a 9% increase in commercial construction projects for 2015. Overall, the economic outlook is good for landscape and irrigation construction.

University of Cincinnati Extensive Green Roof

Extensive Green Roof at the University of Cincinnati.

Water Pollution Caused by Stormwater Runoff Creates Additional Opportunities

The increasing emphasis in environmental issues through the world can also benefit landscape and irrigation contractors. The U.S. EPA is coming under increasing scrutiny for water pollution caused by stormwater runoff.

Over 175 communities across the United States have stormwater systems that feed stormwater through their sewage treatment facilities. It seems wasteful to treat rainwater as sewer water but, more importantly, the sewage treatment facilities are not designed to handle the large volume of water that occurs from a rain event. Such facilities, with as little as a 1/4 inch of rainwater, will overflow the rainwater mixed with untreated sewerage into the local waterways.

University of Cincinnati Extensive Green Roof

Extensive Green Roof at the University of Cincinnati.

The issue of stomwater runoff was especially noteworthy in Ohio where the pollution in Lake Erie forced the City of Toledo to shut off it water supply to half a million people for three days this past summer.

Green infrastructure has been heralded as a more efficiency and effective solution to the nation’s water pollution issues. Green infrastructure utilizes living plant material to create a more natural method for stormwater mitigation.

The following green infrastructure methods are areas that require greater landscape and irrigation contractor expertise and participation:

  • rain gardens;
  • bioswales;
  • green roofs;
  • rainwater harvesting; and
  • condensate recovery.

 Social Trends

Finally, in closing, Barrett’s presentation focused on three broad social trends most landscape and irrigation contractors are missing out on:

  1. Digital marketing and social media;
  2. Aging population; and
  3. Dramatic increase in women’s affluence in the United States.

There were several questions from the audience about the lower prices for gasoline predicting an economic recession. Barrett replied that he did not see lower gasoline prices reducing the demand for landscaping and irrigation.

Business Do Not Create Jobs; Consumers Create Jobs

In fact, Barrett went on to say, “The current economic recovery has missed the mark in job creation by focusing on large multi-national corporations. 70% of jobs in America are created by smaller business with fifty or less employees. Additionally, no business will create jobs without consumer demand. The job creation focus needs to be on putting money into circulation through consumers.”

Reviews And Comments

The most memorable concept from the presentation was women’s impact in the workforce today.

My favorite part of the presentation was the statistics on how the world is changing.