As American consumers and businesses look for new ways to reduce the environmental impact of daily life, the notion of green buildings is extending beyond their four walls and into the surrounding landscape. Certifications such as LEED and others provide a suite of standards for environmentally sustainable construction, including landscaping and grounds keeping.
Developers, builders and contractors can leverage smart water management technology to gain points necessary to achieve LEED certification of their outdoor areas. Smart water management uses smart irrigation controllers that monitor and use information about site conditions (such as soil moisture, rain, wind, slope, soil, plant type and more), and apply the right amount of water to the landscape based on those factors. Once the smart controller is installed and set up, it automatically makes seasonal weather and site-specific adjustments, and does not require ongoing monitoring.
Water, Water Everywhere — or Is It?
Water consumption is being targeted because, quite simply, it is becoming a scarce commodity — and its price is rising. More than half the U.S. suffers from drought conditions and, as a result, water rates are rising faster than energy costs. In fact, water use also consumers energy; every one billion gallons of water consumed requires 4 billion watt-hours of power, and results in an environmentally unfriendly 5.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Awareness of water conservation is growing, particularly in western states, some of which are enacting laws to enforce recommendations to lower consumption. Conservationists have zeroed in on landscapes, which typically contribute 20 percent of a property’s value, because they account for 58 percent of all urban water usage. Landscapes are routinely over-watered by 30 to 300 percent, presenting a high-value target for sustainability programs.
In addition to water, energy and cost savings, any reduction in over-watering also lowers the damaging environmental effects of runoff, which transports landscape chemicals and other contaminants into the local water supply.
The Business Benefits of Water Conservation
For portfolio owners, obtaining LEED certification for outdoor water conservation carries significant business benefits. Lower water consumption counteracts the rising costs of water, resulting in fast payback of an investment in smart water management systems. Perhaps of even more monetary significance, proper irrigation reduces property destruction and the liability exposure caused by over watering.
In terms of market differentiation, LEED certification for landscaped areas demonstrates a company’s social responsibility in carefully managing natural resources. It also enhances the company brand and the property’s valuation.
The Fastest Path to LEED Certification, and Beyond
True smart water management technology is the most effective way to achieve LEED certification for outdoor water conservation. Although a wide range of irrigation technologies are marketed as being smart, genuine smart water management systems are differentiated by:
• No people involvement, because all irrigation activity is determined and executed by the system
• Low maintenance costs, unlike systems based on sensors and temperature gauges
• Ideal for both new construction and retrofitting, since they don’t require the implantation of sensors, gauges or other in-ground equipment.
Beyond providing a straightforward path to LEED certification for outdoor areas, smart water management technology delivers a full complement of business and environmental benefits. Irrigation systems based on this technology are 30 percent more efficient than traditional low-tech watering systems, speeding payback and eliminating infrastructure investments.
For example, Lockheed Martin switched to smart water management on its two 500-acre campuses in California’s Silicon Valley, saving an estimated 126 million gallons of water each year. The aerospace company also estimates that it accrues $1 million in annual cost savings through reduced water bills and property damage avoidance.
In a municipal application, the city of Bend, Oregon implemented smart water management technology across all public landscaping, reducing associated water consumption by 41 percent. As Oregon’s fastest growing region, the city can stave off the construction of treatment plants and other water delivery infrastructure by more efficiently using the existing water supply.
Diminished water wastage in landscape irrigation also cuts down water runoff by 50 to 70 percent, resulting in a direct 1:1 reduction of pollutants flowing into local water bodies.
Finally, smart water management dramatically lowers portfolio owners’ risk of water damage and exposure to litigation. Beyond visible structural damages, over-watering can cause insidious dampness, creating a hospitable environment for toxic mold growth — a serious health hazard that is expensive to litigate and nearly impossible to eradicate.
Is It Smart or Not? A Checklist
Within the irrigation industry, the term smart controller is broadly used to describe a wide range of technology-assisted systems. True smart water management technology has:
• Real-time, accurate weather data, which is downloaded daily to the system via a wireless transmission. This data must include current, not historical, evapotranspiration (ET) data, which the smart controller analyzes in real-time to optimize irrigation for every unique landscape zone and property. The source and quality of the weather data must be considered to ensure its accuracy. The data should be national in scope to allow the system to be deployed anywhere in the U.S., and offer a localized footprint.
• A smart, independent scheduling engine that dynamically adjusts irrigation based on current conditions, as determined by analyzing the previous 24 hours’ weather data.
• SWAT (SmartWater Application Technologies) certification, the seal of approval from the not-for-profit coalition of water purveyors, equipment manufacturers, and irrigation practitioners with shared interests in the SWAT initiative in North America. More information about SWAT is available at www.irrigation.org.
In addition to SWAT certification, the efficacy of the chosen smart water management chosen product should also be validated by public agency studies.
The Smart Way for Landscapes to Go Green
In landscape environments, smart water management is the easiest, most effective way to conserve water, an increasingly scarce natural resource. This innovative technique helps portfolio owners to:
• Achieve LEED certification of a property’s landscaped areas, boosting its profile and market value
• Demonstrably reduce ongoing operational costs and lower the likelihood of water damage to buildings
• Make a strong, positive impact on the environment by reducing contaminant-carrying runoff from over-watered landscapes, which pollutes local water supplies.
These compelling benefits make a strong case for portfolio owners to lead by example with water conservation. And with today’s smart water management technology, taking the lead has never been easier.
Chris Spain is Chairman of the Board and Chief Strategy Officer at HydroPoint, the provider of WeatherTRAK smart water management systems.