The Tampa Bay region can receive a lot of rainfall when averaged throughout the year but there are dry periods when our landscapes require irrigation, which increases demand for water.
New home building in the Tampa Bay region is on the rise since the 2007-2009 recession and, as new homes are built, the use of automatic, in-ground irrigation systems increases. Up to 80 percent of new homes have irrigation systems and law requires builders to install automatic shut-off devices to turn off systems when it rains.
The results might not be what you’d expect. The automated systems have led homeowners to keep their systems turned on and depend on rain sensors to shutoff irrigation systems. Unfortunately, rain sensor technology is not effective in mimicking plant watering requirements. Nor do they work well over the long term, leading to higher water-use from inefficient irrigation.
That means residents are paying more to water their landscapes when their landscapes don’t need it.
Research conducted at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF IFAS) has determined that soil moisture sensor technology is much more reliable at representing plant watering needs and increasing water use efficiency. In fact, the University’s field research in Pinellas and Orange counties showed between 40 and 70 percent reductions in single-family water use, without negatively affecting landscapes. The research also determined that automatic rain sensors are inferior to soil moisture sensors’ ability to save water for the long-term.
Regional utilities are taking notice. Soil moisture sensor technology is part of Pasco County’s landscape ordinance. Hillsborough County is providing a rebate for soil moisture sensors so builders are using them more in environmentally-friendly developments.
Tampa Bay Water’s Demand Management Plan shows that providing financial incentives for using the technology in single-family homes is cost effective for water utilities in the region. It could reduce water use in the highest 25 percent of users by 155 gallons per day and cost the utility about $0.35 per 1,000 gallons. For homeowners and builders, the return on the cost of the technology is approximately one year.
Tampa Bay Water and its partners recognize the importance of educating those involved in landscape irrigation. In February, 2016, Tampa Bay Water, the University of Florida and the Florida Irrigation Society (FIS) hosted an all-day, soil moisture sensor training workshop. The event was at capacity as more than 60 participants including regional irrigation contractors, water utility staff and Florida Friendly Landscaping™ coordinators packed into Tampa Bay Water’s administrative offices in Clearwater, Fla. Participants received classroom style information sessions, and practical training on proper device installation and maintenance at two field locations.
For more information about soil moisture sensors including how to install them, visit http://buildgreen.ufl.edu/sms/homeowneredu.html.
Tampa Bay Water continues to work with its members, the Florida Friendly Landscaping™ programs, irrigation contractors, UF IFAS and FIS to help insure this and other appropriate technology is available for proper use in the Tampa Bay region.