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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Feb 27

The Annual Spring Chore

Posted on February 27, 2015 at 9:03 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

The evening temperatures are still dropping into the 20s here in Lassen. Bareroot plants are still available for purchase, meaning there's still time to select the desired perennial veggies or fruit tree for the garden. And random rain showers are still keeping things watered without the need to turn on the controller. But spring—and irrigation season—will be here before we know it. Now is the time to check the irrigation system before moving that dial to run!

It mystifies me how an irrigation system that was working so perfectly at the end of autumn can fall into misalignment, spring leaks, pop emitters, or otherwise break when not being used. Somehow those anomalies crop up every spring and require us to check the system for efficiency. With this in mind, let's go through this together to make certain we hit all the essentials.

1. If you are manually changing your controller settings or runtimes to correspond to the current evapotranspiration rate, it might be a good time to consider a smart controller. The new controllers will save you time and prevent unneeded irrigation. (Check MMWD's website for current rebates.)

2. Turn your controller on and allow each station to water for a few minutes. This exercise has multiple benefits:
  • First, you can confirm that the controller is communicating with each valve. When working properly, the controller sends an electrical impulse to the valve to turn the station on. If a station does not turn on, there is either a disconnect with the wiring between the two points, or there is a problem with the valve. If multiple stations fail to turn on, the problem may be with the controller.
  • While the water is running, walk around and look for any problems. Check for head-to-head coverage on your spray heads, misdirected spray not targeting the root zones of intended plants, or errant water shooting in the air from a popped emitter. Also check that each emitter is dripping to each plant, or move the drip hosing further away from the plant base to accommodate the feeder roots as the plant grows. See that all spray nozzles are "firing" from each port and insects or dirt haven't clogged any orifices. Also check that the vegetation in the garden isn't blocking the spray pattern, preventing the plants in the back from getting the water needed to survive.
  • If the station fails to turn off when you're done, check to see if any debris is keeping the diaphragm or orifice open. These parts inside the valve can wear with time and may need to be replaced or simply cleaned.
 Valve with air gap
 Raised valve with air gap
If you have a backflow assembly, has it been tested in the last 12 months? If not, call an MMWD recognized backflow prevention assembly tester to get the annual testing done. Or is your irrigation system designed with atmospheric vacuum breakers that are set a foot higher than all of your sprinkler heads and buried pipes? Often worms or insects will get into the atmospheric vacuum breaker, which will cause it to fail and leak water or not prevent backflow.

Remember that your irrigation system is as mechanical as your car. You wouldn't think of buying a new car without regular servicing. The same holds true for your irrigation system. I also would recommend seeking the help of a Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper if you're not sure how to perform a system check, or for any repairs or adjustments that require attention.


Scott Stokes
February 27, 2015 at 1:39 PM
File under Tips and Tricks: Cut scrap sections of fiberglass screening into 6' squares and rap one over/around each air gap or vacuum breaker opening and secure with an electrical tie or twist'um. Bugs can't get in any more. :-)
Jennifer Dickinson
March 3, 2015 at 2:09 PM
Hopefully we'll get more rain!

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