Low Water Irrigation

Project Leads: Gary Imazumi & Matthew Wolter

Student Intern: Megan Maurino

Sponsor: Physical Plant-Campus Services

TGIF Grant: $38,072

Project Theme: Water Conservation & Tap Water

Project Location

2011 Application Submission

Status: Complete

Project Description: Low Water Irrigation will install electronic metering and a weather station to provide more accurate and real-time management of campus irrigation systems. With the installation of the metering, campus can switch from time-base to flow-base watering.

A brief history, explaining the need for this project: UC Berkeley’s irrigation system is comprised of new and old technology. Elements of the system date back to 1960. There are over 42,000 sprinkler heads, which vary from drip emitters, overhead sprays, and gear driven rotors. They are controlled through a series of approximately 1400 valves, 40 field controllers, one weather station, and a centralized irrigation computer. The weather station provides reliable weather information (rainfall, solar and UV radiation, temperature, wind, and evaporative transpiration) to the irrigation computer to make real time ET based adjustments to the controllers. With the existing hardware, the irrigation computer can only provide alerts when a valve or a controller malfunctions. The existing system does not provide adequate information from the field to the irrigation computer to accurately diagnose the problem or problems in the field. For example, if a sprinkler head or valve is damaged, it may go unnoticed; it may not be repaired until it is reported to Grounds Services; and it may not be repaired until an irrigation plumber finds the problem. This could result in wasting thousands of gallons of water on any given day.

Goals: Baseline estimate of annual irrigation water consumption is 8,592,223 gallons of water and with the new electric meter installations, Low Water Irrigation expects to save 10-15% annually. Another 5% savings will come from the weather station installation that will measure the microclimate at the West Front campus entrance. Monitor and measure flow rate remotely and be notified immediately of problems rather than relying on human notification or once-monthly data. Metering and weather station system will deactivate sprinklers when sufficient rainfall is detected. Hire student interns to document irrigation consumption before and after implementation of the project.

2011-2012 Accomplishments

  • Four hydrometers, three smart controllers, and a weather station have been installed.
  • Alarms from the controllers have already been triggered and alerted Ground Services of needed irrigation repairs, proving the project to be successful.
  • The project was completed under-budget, allowing project leader Gary Imazumi to use the extra funds for Water Wise products, to accommodate future expansion of the landscape with water smart controllers.
  • With the installation of the 4 ARAD Hydrometers, the flow rate is being monitored and measured remotely. Water usage is being recorded after irrigating the landscape to determine a baseline usage. With ongoing monitoring of the water usage, maximum and minimum set points can be established and programmed; conditional programming features of the software will trigger alerts when flow rates exceed maximums and will trigger the hydrometers to shut off; eliminating wasting of thousands of gallons of water.
    • Once the base line is established, the software will provide information to pinpoint field problems. Performance efficiencies will be enhanced, sending the irrigation plumbers to the right valve and location, and expediting the repair.
  • With the installation of an ET (evapotransipration) weather station and a Smart Controller (IRRInet-Ace) near the West Front, local (microclimate) data is being collected and sent to the irrigation server to calculate real-time program adjustments to water schedules and upload those changes to other field controllers. The system is also automatically and remotely deactivating all campus connected controllers when sufficient rainfall is detected to prevent water waste.


Next Steps: The project leader will hire student interns to gather past water usage records, record the flow rates for the base line, and determine what percentage of water was saved over the course of the project. The students will interact and work with staff from other departments to develop ideas to help conserve water, labor, and money.

2012-2013 Accomplishments
The University of California, Berkeley currently has in place an automated centrally controlled irrigation system (ICC). The system requires a compatible automated weather station to provide data to the ICC Server that will be used to modify the daily irrigation programs automatically (without operator intervention). These adjustments insure only the absolute minimum required amount of water is dispensed in each area by the local irrigation controllers. This project has added the second of three needed weather stations, and has added four ARAD hydrometers and three field controllers. Data from the new weather station will be extrapolated to adjust programs in other micro climates on the west side of the campus. Once the automated features and efficiencies of the second weather station are realized from in-service testing, the PP-CS Grounds department may pursue additional funding for the third weather station in order to more accurately model the campus weather patterns. Further funds will be provided by PP-CS to cover the remaining costs of purchase, installation, and ongoing maintenance. Additional funding may also be acquired from East Bay Municipal Utilities District, grants, and/or gifting. The new weather station interface is intended to reduce the overall campus use of domestic water for irrigation to the minimum required amount to maintain the existing landscapes; to contribute to a Campus sustainability goal to reduce water consumption by 20%; and to attain synergistic results in project and resource management.

  • Tested all equipment and made software adjustments as needed:
    • The Sproul Repeater failed, causing communication failure to radio based campus field controllers; LAN failed at communication hubs (connecting to field units and server); replaced the irrigation server.
    • The new irrigation server was tested with all field units.
    • Programming glitches have been discovered, solution still not found; added and tested new program to allow multiple users to access servers.
  • From the beginning, the scope of the project has continued to expand as new users, Athletics and Housing & Dining, were added to ICC. A “smart”, remote, and centrally controlled irrigation system allows other departments to “do more with less”.
  • Software upgrades were completed to ICC. Multiple users may login remotely and simultaneously. Microsoft Office was added for future reporting and possibly exporting reports to interested parties.
  • With the installation of hydrometers and field controllers, irrigation and non-irrigation usage can be collected. Flow data has been recorded for this project for at least 6 months.
  • With the installation of the weather station at the West Front Kiosk, PP-CS Grounds can confirm different micro climates, and different watering needs for the West Front vs. the central campus.
  • SMS texting provides 24/7/365 alerts or alarms for managerial needs (e.g. Change irrigation factor to 36 Area Mul Wthr” received on Feb 27) or emergency responses (e.g.”FAIL.HIGH FLOW () in Irrigation Program (G059) 015P059(59) Field Unit NW ANIMAL 515-MIR” received on Feb 28).
  • Equipment tested and works within parameters to modify daily programming of irrigation programs.
  • Trouble shooting irrigation problems are easily recognized and quickly repaired.
  • Greater collaboration with other staff from other supporting department has occurred.


  • Purchasing software – scheduling installation, support, and working through the problems.
  • Software glitches – scheduling support and working through the problems.
  • Product Delays – High-tech electronics are manufactured abroad (Israel and Germany); equipment built to order, tested, & shipped.
  • Project Management issues – competing or conflicting staff work schedules.
  • Resignation of student intern- hiring of a replacement.


  • From a previous project, Project Management Plan For Addition Of Irrigation Control Center Weather Station, “Centralizing control of the irrigation systems has provided far more efficient operation. Previously when weather required the campus irrigation system to be shutdown or restarted it took two people two days to complete the work, manually reprogramming each controller. This task now takes less than one minute to complete for the entire system. By maintaining much closer program control for each area, the amount of water used for irrigation has been reduced by 15% as measured for July 2003-June 2004. This represents a reduction of approximately 220,000 gallons of water per year.”
  • Time base to flow base measurements – “Change irrigation factor to 36 Area Mul Wthr” received on Feb 27″ SMS report. The alert means: The irrigation will run 36% of what is stored on the program; 64% is conserved.
  • The purchase of the iPads will allow irrigation plumbers to remotely access the central command center to make program changes, test, and shut the system in the field. (Travel time and overtime rates can be greatly diminished with a few taps. For every “call back”, with the use of an iPad, $300 is saved).
  • At today’s cost of $4.57 ccu ft (~748 gallons), water is relatively cheap. In 2006, the price was $3.07. In six years, the price of water has increased by 47.4%. As limited supplies diminish, demand and cost continues to rise. Demand and adaptive management practices are key components to conserve and plan for the future. (For example, when one looks at the irrigation factor of 40% in the first year, it’s the actual flow of water. 60% savings is immediate. In the second year with the same weather conditions, if design changes are to be made in the landscape with native plants, or if overhead irrigation is changed to drip, or old sprinklers are changed out with water smart devices, the irrigation factor may be lowered.)
  • This project protects and enhances the campus environment by providing just enough water for a healthier landscape. The benefits include:
    • Cooling effects – The lawns in front of 8 average houses have the cooling effect of about 70 tons of air conditioning. Trees will provide shade
    • Dust Trappers – In the US, turf grasses trap much of an estimated 12 million tons of dust and dirt released annually in the atmosphere
    • Rainfall Absorption – Healthy lawns absorb rainfall thus reducing the load on waste/storm water treatment plants
    • Promotes Good Health & Improves Mood and Spirits – A healthy landscape relieves stress and quickly affects people’s moods
    • Water Purification – Turf and trees help purify water which is entering underground aquifers. The root mass and soil microbes act as a filter to capture and break down pollutants. Run-off is alleviated or prevented.
    • Air Purification – Trees convert carbon emissions into oxygen. In Japan, the gingko tree is used to reduce smog levels in major metropolitan areas like Tokyo

Final Accomplishments and Successes:

  • In total, TGIF funded 3 field controllers, 3 hydrometers, 3 iPads, and a weather station to help conserve water and improve work efficiencies.
  • The installation of the second weather station, Mulford Weather Station, provided different irrigation factors than the first weather station, EAL Weather Station. The lower irrigation factors confirmed a different microclimate and resulted with additional water savings.
  • The installations of the 4 hydrometers provided flows for irrigation and non-irrigation usage. Baseline data usage provided the set points of triggering parameters for low or high flows alerts and alarms. On three separate instances, maximum flows were exceeded and ICC triggered the irrigation to shut down, saving thousands of gallons of water.
  • The installation of the 3 new controllers saved hours of travel time to the sites, equipment repair costs, and labor hours.
  • With the reallocation of funds, TGIF permitted the purchase of 3 iPads for the irrigation plumbers to use in the field. The iPads provide remote access to ICC so that work can be handled alone, in the field, or even at home. “Call back” or emergencies can be handled with just a few taps; saving hundreds of dollars in overtime payments.
  • The collaboration between staff from other shops of PPCS to install (“get it done”) the equipment must be recorded. PPCS provided over $38,000 in labor to help support the installation.

Final Report

Conclusions and Next Steps:
The project experienced communications failures, computer crashes, and inadequate staffing to follow through with establishing the base line water usage for the West Front landscape. Although the project did gather baseline flows for each valve, gaps in the data collection will require hours of additional interaction with another department to determine the West Front water usage. Due to demand work, limited irrigation staffing, and other work priorities, the project failed to determine a bench mark over the two years and hence failed to determine whether the goal to conserve 20% from the baseline water usage was met.

Mulford Weather Station Irrigation Factor

  • Irrigation Percentage

However, when one looks at the irrigation factor (percentage) for Mulford Weather Station, ICC is ratcheting down the flow to replenish what the landscape lost to evapotranspiration. Although the goal to conserve 20% may have not been met, the results clearly demonstrate that TGIF’s funding provided the campus with water efficient equipment.

The project will continue as part of Grounds Services’ daily operations. The primary goal is water conservation through effective stewardship of our water resources.
The next step of the project is to continue upgrading the rest of the campus irrigation system by seeking additional funding and staffing from TGIF and other funding partners.