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John Dennis is assistant general manager of Lake Forest Keys, a California development that turned to computerized controls to help manage its watering system. Photo: Mark Huntzinger

Ever-increasing costs and limited resources are driving municipalities, real-estate developers, and commercial landscapers to seek innovative ways to reduce water usage.

The Lake Forest Keys community in Southern California's city of Lake Forest has 500 homes and a 36-acre lake surrounded by acres of irrigated landscape. In March 2000, the development's watering system began failing. At the time, the system had no sensors to detect broken sprinkler heads or irrigation lines. Instead of continuing to repair the outdated system, John Dennis, assistant general manager for the development, opted for replacement. “With 400 valves and weather that can change from day to day, we were over-watering much of the time. I knew a computerized controller system could solve that,” he said.

An added incentive to make the change came from the Southern California Metropolitan Water District. “We found out there were funds available to help pay for the new system, provided it would reduce our water use by 25%. Of course, we had to be able to document that fact,” said Dennis.

“One proven way to stop cost escalation is to cut water costs by replacing outdated control systems with computerized controls,” said Rick Capitanio, vice president of sales and marketing for Calsense Water Management Systems, Carlsbad, Calif. “Advanced new controls not only provide the right amount of water at the right time, but can identify leaks, document usage, even generate a warning when usage goes over budget.”

The company has focused on developing and pioneering efficient systems that are easy to learn and to operate. “We also spent a lot of time on software that is capable of generating a large variety of valuable reports,” said Capitanio. “Our systems can justify qualification for lower water rates in existing developments and even provide the documentation required in pre-construction projections for new construction.”

Dennis tested two competing controllers. “I decided we should go with Calsense,” he said. “It was much easier to use, the training was fast, and we even got a free software upgrade. Rick Capitanio personally worked on our project. He walked through the entire area and consolidated 26 controllers down to 12.”

Within five months, the system was installed, including the evapotranspiration gauge that measures moisture loss to determine watering requirements. “Now when we have a week that goes from foggy to hot to cool to breezy, we know everything will get just the water it needs. The landscape looks great, and the savings look even better,” said Dennis. The development's water district grant required a 25% savings; Lake Forest Keys averages 38% savings over their old system.

“Between the water we've saved and the special funding, this system was paid for in two and a half years,” said Dennis. “Even our landscape supervisor, a pretty skeptical guy, is impressed. He comes in every day and can see immediately where there are breaks in the line, how much water was used. He can even tell if someone has tapped into the system for a little private watering; it's that sensitive.”

Dennis finds the system's reporting function to be useful and informative. “I can look at the charts anytime and see right where we are budget-wise. And the format is so good, I can just print out any of the reports and present them to the board as-is.”

Now in his fifth year with the system, Dennis said he is satisfied. “I had a really great feeling about the people at Calsense when they first came out to talk with me. That feeling hasn't changed at all. We've got a partnership here and I know they will always come through for me,” he said.

That's something Capitanio is glad to hear. “We look at everything from the customer's perspective. When a customer tells us what they need, we think it's our job to make sure they get it.”

David Byma is president of Calsense.